Directed by Yung Chang. STC. 92 min. Opens Nov. 23 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
Though you may think you appreciate the overripe objects currently languishing in your fruit bowl, chances are your dedication to nature’s sweetest bounty pales next to the ardency expressed by the subjects in The Fruit Hunters. And who can really blame them, given the ever-so succulent qualities of the delicacies on display?
Based on the book by Canadian journalist Adam Leith Gollner, and directed by Montreal’s Yung Chang, this botanically themed new doc introduces viewers to a colourful gallery of fruit obsessives. Among the most memorable are Richard Campbell, a valiant collector and protector of the genetic codes of tropical fruits at Florida’s Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, and Isabella Dalla Ragione, an Italian agronomist searching for fig varieties she spots in Renaissance paintings. Yet the most surprising figure here is actor Bill Pullman, the proud caretaker of over 100 fruiting plants at his home in the Hollywood Hills.
By surveying their many activities, Chang’s film charts the wider history of humankind’s long and curiously romantic relationship with fruit. Along with Gollner’s book, The Fruit Hunters evokes memories of Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, another study of the complex and mutually transformative dynamic between people and plants.
It’s a huge and hugely varied topic, and Chang sometimes struggles to contain all of its tangents and tendrils. But while The Fruit Hunters’ cheeky use of reenactments and buoyant tone certainly set it apart from the director’s more traditionally vérité-style doc hits, Up the Yangtze and China Heavyweight, there’s still a serious message at the film’s core about the importance of defending biodiversity in the face of industrial farming and environmental degradation. And whether or not you’ve truly loved a mango or fully embraced the aromatic challenges presented by an especially stinky durian, you may find yourself becoming as smitten with the juicy stuff as the many eccentrics on screen.