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Food or Famine (1962)

Courtesy of Shell International

Main image of Food or Famine (1962)
35mm, colour, 45 minutes
DirectorsStuart Legg
 Martha Varley
 A. Bailey
Production CompanyShell Film Unit
ProducersStuart Legg
 Martha Varley
 Alvin Bailey
MusicEdward Williams

Methods of increasing food production, including improved strains of crops, the use of pesticides, weedkillers and insecticides and land reclamation.

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Food or Famine (1962) was directed by Stuart Legg, who had worked with John Grierson for the National Film Board of Canada during the Second World War, after his apprenticeship at the GPO Film Unit. It was based on an original treatment by Michael Orrom, who had been the assistant director of The World is Rich, Paul Rotha's 1947 film advocating the policies of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. Filmed in locations across the world, including Europe, South-East Asia, India, South America and Australia, Food or Famine embodies the internationalism for which the Shell Film Unit was renowned. It is a fine example of the principle of ostensibly disinterested sponsorship, with Shell supporting prestige documentaries on topics seemingly remote from their commercial interests. It is also exemplifies the unit's concentration on science and technology; as David Robinson remarked in Sight and Sound, "the best Shell films are expository psalms to the new technology-ruled world in which the Company stand as so large a symbol."

World population growth was a significant concern in the early 1960s, when the first version of this film was made (an updated version appeared in 1974). The implications for world health, resources and infrastructure, and especially the pressure on the poor, were acutely felt and widely debated.

In style as well as concerns it is the successor to The World is Rich; it is an example of documentary lyrical impressionism which, like many before, uses music in the English style (by Edward Williams) in sympathetic counterpoint to a non-continuous commentary. Shot in colour, it is able to use monochrome sequences to highlight contrasts, especially those between the well-off and the malnourished poor. Several voices, of different nationalities, speak the commentary to different sections of the film, maintaining variety and audience interest.

Timothy Boon

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Video Clips
1. The challenge (5:05)
2. A backroom miracle (2:51)
3. A 20th-century farmer (3:55)
World is Rich, The (1947)
Legg, Stuart (1910-1988)
Science in Non-Fiction Film