Twenty Questions on the movie “Milk War”
In view of the upcoming Toronto screening of the latest raw milk documentary “Milk War” at 5 pm on Sunday May 1, 2011 at the Toronto Underground Cinema, we thought we’d interview producer Richard Paradiso about his experiences of exploring raw milk and working with Declan O’Driscoll on making the movie. So here goes:
THE BOVINE: When you started on this project in 2006, what was your initial perspective on the topic of raw milk?
RICHARD: I had no perspective on it- meaning it was a non topic. I used to drink lots of (pasteurized) milk as a child, but, as in 2006, drink very little of it now. But I was very interested in what Michael was fighting for legally, and how this particular raw milk issue affected many others and had other implications.
THE BOVINE: Had you had any personal experience with raw milk before that?
RICHARD: No. But I was curious to see what I might be missing.
THE BOVINE: Did you drink any raw milk in the course of making the film? If so what did you think of it?
RICHARD: Yes, whenever I was at Michael’s place I would drink it. The cream there was beautiful. I also tried the raw milk freely offered by the Loewiths, the DFO [Dairy Farmers of Ontario] representative family farm in the film.
THE BOVINE: How has that initial perspective you had in 2006 shifted since then?
RICHARD: I still do not drink much milk, but I would drink some more if good raw milk was more easily available. More importantly, the awareness of very effective social marketing over the decades in Ontario to paint an extremely bad picture of raw milk, no matter how healthy the cow and clean the farm, came very early in researching and making the film. Remember, milk wasn’t a concern for me. Always wanting to know where my food comes from and having a good diet, that the healthy possibilities of raw milk evaded me until some guy named Michael went on a hunger strike astounded me early and increasingly since the early stages of the film in 2006.
THE BOVINE: Why did it take so long for the film to be finished? Wasn’t it four years?
RICHARD: That was the length of the court process from the raid at his farm in late 2006 to the eventual finding of Michael not being guilty on 19 charges in late January, 2010. The film was completely finished the next month in February, 2010.
THE BOVINE: Were there people you would have liked to interview for the film who turned you down?
RICHARD: Dr. Jeff WIlson, a major Crown witness, declined to talk to us as long as the case was in the courts. Though we interviewed many DFO farmers, it wasn’t simple to get a representative DFO farm to participate. It was good for the Loewiths to invite us.
THE BOVINE: Why did they turn you down? Do you think they thought you’d be biased against their point of view?
RICHARD: Not in Dr. Wilson’s case. For anyone in the court room, the answers he was giving to the lawyers that brought him there were somewhat frustrating to them, even seemed to be helping Michael’s position sometimes. During breaks Wilson and Schmidt could be seen conversing and joking a little. As for the difficulty finding a willing DFO farm to be in the film, only they know if they thought we’d be biased against their point of view. Apparently they were not willing to risk it, however.
THE BOVINE: When you started on the project, did you know already then how it would be distributed?
RICHARD: No. With a microphone in hand, and Declan with a camera, we started interviewing at Jamie Kennedy’s restaurant one morning, where Schmidt would go on a hunger strike before the press. We knew we would continue to document this story and then tell it through film, but did not yet know how it would be distributed.
THE BOVINE: If not, at what point did ichannel enter the picture?
RICHARD: At the beginning of 2009.
THE BOVINE: The film has now been screened at probably at least three festivals that we’ve heard of (in Toronto, Vancouver and Nelson). Were there others as well?
RICHARD: We did show segments of it at Harbourfront’s Hot Spot Festival in the summer before the official first screening in Toronto.
THE BOVINE: Could you summarize some of the viewer feedback you’ve been getting from those screenings.
RICHARD: Right from the beginning there was exciting feedback. There was a Q and A period after what we showed at the Hot Spot Festival with not only Declan and myself, but Michael Schmidt too. It was Michael’s first glimpse at the film, and it was great to see his reaction. People were enthusiastic as the event ended, wanting to continue talking about it. It has grown from there.
THE BOVINE: Can you say something about how the film came to be nominated for the James Beard award?
RICHARD: They just got in touch and told us the happy news.
THE BOVINE: Did you specifically select a conventional farmer to appear in the film who drank his own raw milk, or how did that revelation occur?
RICHARD: No. They just offered it to us with some nice cheeses and fruits!
THE BOVINE: The raw milk story continues on, with the Province’s appeal which we are now waiting to hear the outcome of. Will there be a Milk War sequel?
RICHARD: We’ll see.
THE BOVINE: Have you watched the other documentary on Michael Schmidt and raw milk that came out a couple of years before yours?
RICHARD: No. I saw the beginning of it at the fundraiser in the film, but I’ve not seen it through.
THE BOVINE: What did you think of it? And did it influence what you chose to include in your movie?
RICHARD: I had a certain idea of how to tell this story- it had to be investigative and fair. Kevin specializes in this work at ichannel. After Declan introduced me to him, I looked at some of Kevin’s previous work and thought it was absolutely suitable. We chose to include in the film what was needed, to tell the story effectively our way.
THE BOVINE: Since your movie had been in process for so long, I’m guessing there was a lot of footage you shot but never got to use. What would say was the ratio of footage shot to footage used?
RICHARD: Lots and lots of footage not used! But we were getting the story the whole time, then it came time to write.
THE BOVINE: From all the time you spent hanging around raw milk folks in the production of the movie, do you have any observations about ways in which they might be “different”?
RICHARD: Raw milk folks are just like anybody else in their differences and varieties. Get them together, you have a higher percentage group that cares about what they eat.
THE BOVINE: What part of the raw milk saga did you find the most moving, personally?
RICHARD: The need to continually fight for one’s natural rights and freedoms is an issue I am always exploring. That’s why I was interested in Michael’s situation in 2006, and it was fascinating to follow and be part of this real-time “saga”. It continues.
THE BOVINE: What plans are there for distributing this film?
RICHARD: ANYONE IS WELCOME TO GET IN TOUCH WITH US REGARDING DISTRIBUTING THE FILM. [email: declan AT bpmtv DOT com, OR reale.paradiso AT gmail DOT com]
Richard Paradiso is a Producer of Milk War (associate producer in the credits). He also composed and performed the music of the film. Richard and Declan were the originators of the film.