Dive! can be linked to a recent wave of documentaries about garbage, including feature-length works like Garbage Dreams (2009) and Wasteland (2010), and several short videos available online, including Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage (2005), and numerous documentaries about dumpster diving and Freeganism – a term coined to describe alternative lifestyles based upon limited participation in the consumer economy.
Of these, Dive! more closely resembles the short videos in style, and, in particular, shares the aesthetics of many grassroots videos about Freeganism: the camera follows a group as they dive for food and prepare it back at home; throughout, the subjects directly address the camera to describe what they are doing and why. However, Dive! is not a documentary about Freeganism; rather, it is an advocacy film that uses the story of commercial food waste to argue that supermarket chains should expand their policies of food donation.
Along with sequences of the filmmaker, Jeremy Seifert, and his friends dumpster diving, the film uses stop-motion animation and whiteboard drawings to illustrate in visually accessible ways the mind-boggling amount of food waste Seifert seeks to expose. The key expert in Dive!, anthropologist Timothy Jones, makes provocative arguments about the far-reaching environmental and social costs of the current food system that produces tons of food waste in developed countries. In its discussion of the industrial food system, Dive! also shares concerns with documentaries like Food, Inc. (2008) and King Corn (2007), and with social justice movements like Occupy Monsanto.
For all its contributions to documentary discourse by bringing together the related concerns of food production and garbage and by using clever do-it-yourself aesthetics, Dive! suffers from certain decisions that make it appear disingenuous. Documentaries, of course, often elide details or reconstruct time in order to make an argument or tell an effective story, but such strategies can impinge on a filmmaker’s credibility when taken too far. Arguably, Dive! falls into this trap. Seifert directs, edits, and narrates Dive!, and he presents himself as one part scruffy young dad, and one part “guerrilla” documentarian. Dive! ostensibly follows Seifert and his friends as they make the transition from simple dumpster divers to policy advocates. However, as a first-person documentary, Dive! discloses surprisingly little about its director and his circle of friends, who all figure prominently within the film. For [End Page 130] example, the documentary does not tell us that key members in Seifert’s circle are also members of his band, the Jubilee Singers, who provide the majority of the film’s soundtrack. Dive! makes striking use of their music throughout and highlights the group in its credits, but keeps off-frame their work as a band and their ties to the Pasadena Mennonite Church. Also puzzling is the film’s inclusion of unsourced video from Uganda and Haiti, likely from the San Damiano Foundation, a Franciscan company that makes sponsored films for faith-based nonprofits. Seifert worked for the San Damiano Foundation, but he does not identify the group or inform viewers that they sent him to document hunger in Uganda. In fact, the San Damiano Foundation is perhaps best known for a viral video of children starving to death in Uganda.
These connections to religious organizations might seem extraneous information for a film about food waste, but one can feel their absence in this attempt at a first-person documentary. Playing the clueless young father, Seifert describes his concern about food waste as an extension of his experience dumpster diving: he had begun diving to get food for his family and only later became troubled by the amount of food he found in the trash. However, given Seifert’s background, it seems unlikely that he was unaware of the problems of food waste and domestic hunger before he began this project. In a similar vein, it is difficult to believe that Seifert only discovered the featured faith-based groups who coordinate with supermarkets to reclaim food waste while working on this project, as the story suggests. Moreover, we are asked to believe...