“As people were beginning to understand the inequity that created the conditions for African Americans in America, from a structural standpoint, our film provided the other half of that.”
Award-winning filmmaker, Sanjay Rawal, my guest today on Inside Ideas, is talking here about the criminal exploitation of Native Americans as the other half of that coin. Which he explores in his latest film, Gather: a story of Native American resiliency and the ongoing revival of their population’s spiritual, political and cultural identities through food sovereignty.
“Gather is based on the concept of food sovereignty,” he said. “Which is a much deeper idea than food access, or food security. Food security is the availability of calories at an affordable cost. Food sovereignty is communities exercising their rights to have the types of food that they want. Food sovereignty requires community and means we don’t just think about the producers, we think about the people working in the fields, that are working in the meat packing plants, that are working in the grocery system, that are working in the supply chain. If any one of those nodes experiences a shock an entire system is turned upside down.”
When the covid pandemic struck the shock quickly revealed the depth of inequity across all communities in America.
“It showed that those who can afford food face few difficulties but that communities that don’t underpin the economics of the system – like my neighbourhood in Queens, they find themselves in dire straits.”
In Gather, Sanjay follows the story of Native Americans, who have faced countless shocks to their way of life, perpetrated by countries intent on stealing their resources. In a savage process where systems were set up to the detriment of indigenous populations in North America.
Gather was released digitally in the US and Canada in September last year, at a time when the world was watching the shocking and deadly scale of America’s systemic racism issues play out live on their TV screens. The connections between this story and that of Native Americans is laid bare in Gather.
“The film came out just after the summer and the renewed focus on Black Lives Matter; and George Floyd’s murder, Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, Breonna Taylor’s murder, and we were able to basically connect the Black Lives Matter movement with Native resiliency,” Sanjay said. “In the sense that America’s traditional agricultural and colonial systems of cash crops required the brutal enslavement of people from west Africa who were primarily agricultural experts.”
Sanjay continued: “Last summer a series of protests really educated people on the legacy of this slavery within institutions in the US today. From loan systems red lining to – of course, law enforcement. We made the case that the obverse of that coin of labour in the original agricultural economy was land. That land was not unoccupied, it was not wilderness. It was a careful, interconnected series of Native American farms and harvesting and foraging areas. To the degree that now 70% of the variety in global food came from scientists in the Western Hemisphere taken from indigenous people: from corn, beans, potatoes, to tomatoes. As people were beginning to understand the inequity that created the conditions for African Americans in America, from a structural standpoint, our film provided the other half of that.”
I am delighted to have Sanjay on the show to discover more about what this important film can teach us about the global pursuit for resiliency.
Sanjay is a James Beard Award winning filmmaker. He made FOOD CHAINS (EP Eva Longoria, Eric Schlosser) which chronicled the battle of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a small group of Oaxacan and Chiapan indigenous farmworkers in Florida, against the largest agribusiness conglomerates in the world. The film was released theatrically in a number of countries (Screen Media in the US) and won numerous awards – including citations from the US Conference of Mayors, the Clinton Global Initiative and the White House. The film was also a Winner (shared) of the 2016 BritDoc Impact award and several festival prizes.
Sanjay’s last film 3100: RUN AND BECOME won several festival prizes, had a robust theatrical release in the US in 2018 and is opening in traditional theatrical engagements across Europe and Australia in 2020 and 2021.