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'Meat the Future' is one of many interesting documentaries coming out of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. Here's what we know.

Melbourne Documentary Film Festival: ‘Meat the Future’ is a must-watch

Meat the Future is one of many interesting documentaries coming out of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival – but this one makes us realize just how close some seemingly science-fiction technologies are to becoming real.

Meat the Future is directed by Liz Marshall and focuses on Dr. Uma Valeti, co-founder of Memphis Meats which is setting out to make meat from cells (or lab grown meat). The act which is called cellular agriculture creates meat without animal slaughter or excessive tolls on the environment from farming practices.

Memphis Meats is working on making cellular agriculture more viable and Meat the Future follows their journey for three years as the company starts with meatballs costing $18,000 a pound to creating a chicken fillet for half the price.

We had the wonderful opportunity to interview Liz Marshall and learn more about the making of this documentary and her love of filmmaking.

On Meat the Future

What inspired you to make Meat the Future?

Through my work, my eyes were opened fully to the need for transformation, so in 2016 I wanted my next feature documentary to be laser-focused on a big, viable solution. A light bulb went off immediately for me when I came across the novel and commercial development of “clean meat,” also referred to as “cultured meat” at the time. The innovation of real meat without the need to breed, raise, confine, and slaughter billions of animals. 

I was certain about making Meat the Future after meeting Dr. Uma Valeti, a Mayo Clinic trained cardiologist and the visionary CEO and co-founder of Memphis Meats – the world’s first startup focused on making this concept a reality, which was a fascinating opportunity for me to explore something big and meaningful during the genesis phase of something truly revolutionary.

Uma and his Memphis Meats’s story is a microcosm, representing the birth of this industry around the globe.

How much did you know about cellular agriculture before making Meat the Future?

Not much, but I knew the concept existed because of Professor Mark Post’s famous 2013 unveiling and tasting of the world’s first beef burger, grown and harvested from cow cells. 

And, in fact, Winston Churchhill famously predicted in 1932 that “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”

You wore a lot of hats during Meat the Future’s production. What was that like? 

Yes, I am writer-director and I am [the] producer. I also filmed when my cinematographer John Price was unavailable. I also conduct regular research, and work with a pro researcher for specialized needs.  I am used to it.

Documentary budgets aren’t huge, it takes years, and getting the story, being in the room, staying on the pulse, is a full-time job! I work with a fantastic team, supportive and immensely talented. I need them, of course.

Do you feel like Meat the Future helped the conversation around cellular agriculture and sustainable food sourcing?

Meat the Future was just released in May (in Canada) and as of June it has garnered more than 70 pieces of global press – interviews, reviews and mentions. We are capturing the imagination of the public. One of the major goals of the film is to accelerate awareness and dialogue about this topic, especially during this time of Covid-19 and climate emergency. 

On filmmaking

Tell us about your filmmaking journey. What did you do before being a filmmaker?

I began my creative career at age 12, acting with Toronto Studio Players, a street and studio style theatre company, until I was 18. I learned about performance, literature, props, costumes, set design, and human dynamics.

At 16, I bought my first 35mm stills camera, a Minolta, and it inspired a vision for me behind the lens. I took this camera everywhere, photographing my friends, my dog, my Toronto urban life. Taking black and white photographs and developing them in a dark room opened me to the cosmos of image making.

I happily left theatre altogether and plunged myself into film school. Fresh out of Ryerson University in the mid-90s, I followed my love of nonfiction storytelling and was commissioned by American folk-icon Ani DiFranco and her pioneering record label Righteous Babe Records, to chronicle Ani’s life as a touring musician. I directed and filmed a multimedia road collage consisting of super 8mm and 16mm film, hi8 video, and digital audio recordings of Ani in parts of Canada and the US.

From there, I decided to immerse myself in television (my first real job), and for five years worked as an Arts, News and Specials producer and videographer at the storied CHUM/CityTV building in Toronto, helmed by media mogul Moses Znaimer, where I produced dozens of segments and specials and filmed iconic artists and musicians for Bravo!, MuchMusic, and BookTelevision: The Channel.

My career in social-issue documentary filmmaking began when I landed the position of Media Director for War Child Canada in 2000. This two year position greatly influenced my path forward. We traveled and filmed in warzones and I directed my first impactful broadcast program, the 2001 Musicians in the WarZone, produced by War Child Canada and MuchMusic.

It followed Canadian music celebrities Chantal Kreviazuk, Raine Maida, the Rascalz, and David Usher to war zones around the world. This experience convinced me to continue channeling my skills and passion into projects that make a difference.

Another project that deeply influenced me is a trilogy of documentaries that I directed in 2006 for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, about the impacts and effects of HIV/AIDS on women and children across sub-Saharan Africa.

I have traveled the world and witnessed human resilience and tragedy, art and culture, and in 2008 I refocused my lens on the natural world; our human and moral relationship to it and to animals.

For the last 12 years I have made four feature length documentaries about these themes, including Midian Farm – my first (and only) personal film about the rise and fall of a 1970s social experiment that my parents co-founded in Ontario, Canada, where I spent formative years.

What’s one film that inspired you to make films?

The 1965 direct-cinema documentary classic Don’t Look Back by D.A. Pennebaker, about Bob Dylan. It mesmerized me. I believe that this film (unconsciously) inspired me to make fly-on-the-wall character-driven documentaries.

Why are documentaries key to changing the conversation on certain subjects?

Documentary is a cinema renaissance, and if the timing is right (because timing is everything), the documentary platform is powerful and influential. People are increasingly drawn, like magnets, to well-told, real and progressive stories. Character-driven documentaries provide a personal emotional point of connection for audiences.

If the goal is to stimulate awareness and expand consciousness, documentary is a vehicle for that experience.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Making films – both nonfiction and fiction – for the big screen and for television. 

Teaching filmmaking. Writing. Home. Contributing to [the] community. Growing food. Wearing ripped denim, red and gold.

Who’s an indie filmmaker we should be keeping on our radar?

Toronto-based Frances-Anne Solomon. A beautiful force of nature.

What would be your dream documentary subject? 

A Grandmother whale.

If any director could direct the story of your life, who would you choose and why?

Ellen Kuras. Imaginative. Thinks outside the box. Deeply sensitive. 

A woman behind the lens. Humble and masterful.

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