The first question I had to put to Morgan Spurlock, who rose to prominence in the filmmaking world with his McDonald's-skewering, Academy Award-nominated Super Size Me, was whether there was any irony in Häagen-Dazs very conspicuously sponsoring Crafted, his new short documentary film about modern artisans.
Crafted clocks in at a compact 25 minutes, and follows Yuji Nagatini, a seventh-generation maker of Japanese earthenware donabe rice cookers, Cortney Burns and Nicolaus Balla, James Beard Award-winning chefs and owners of Bar Tartine in San Francisco, and Luke Snyder and David Van Wyk, who forge handcrafted knives with their blacksmith business, Bloodroot Blades. The focus of the documentary is the people behind these small businesses, and the sweat and effort put into carefully crafting things their goods by hand.
The documentary, which premiered Tuesday at the Los Angeles Film Festival, also happens to be funded by Häagen-Dazs, which is launching a new Artisan collection, a line of six ice cream flavors with somewhat involved names like Tres Leches Brigadeiro and Applewood Smoked Caramel Almond. Häagen-Dazs is licensed to Nestle in the U.S. and Canada and owned by General Mills, which had $18 billion in revenue last year.
"I don't think Häagen-Dazs paying to make a film is any different from Paramount Pictures paying to make a film if they're not telling me what to put in it. And they don't... we're not hawking product," Spurlock said. "Ultimately what this film does is champions something I very much believe in, which is that we should give a shit where things come from."
Spurlock did not pick these businesses himself — he had not, for example, ever been to Bar Tartine before. Häagen-Dazs was looking to produce a short documentary about modern artisans, and Spurlock's production company, Warrior Poets Productions, applied for and got the gig.
You are driving a stake into the evil heart of cynicism.
Was Henry Rollins at the premiere? Of course Henry Rollins was at the premiere. The indefatigable activist, KCRW radio host and ex-leader of punk band Black Flag emceed the Q&A following the screening, where he reeled off some great lines like, "You are driving a stake into the evil heart of cynicism" and revealed that he used to manage a Häagen-Dazs shop in Washington D.C. in the early 1980s (do a search: there are some great pictures of him and Ian Mackaye together).
Little cynicism can be expressed about the documentary itself (it can currently be seen for free by Amazon Prime subscribers), which is well-shot and focuses squarely on the artisans themselves — Spurlock does not inject himself into the film at all, nor are there any sneaky ice cream product placements. All three of the businesses profiled express very firm, clear visions about the integrity of their work and personal importance of it.
"People have called the fermentation and processing that's going on right now, that it's a fad. When, in reality, it's human history," said Balla of his and Burns' work at Bar Tartine. "The last 50 years have been a fad. A bad one."
The last 50 years have been a fad. A bad one
As to whether their daily work felt like activism, Burns said that while they are highly conscious of where they source their ingredients, they don't cook into order to send a message. "At the end of the day, honestly, we're just trying to make food that tastes good," she said. "We don't put where everything comes from right there on the menu, but if people want to know, we can provide that information."
So are they the anti-McDonald's? "I think they are very much anti-fast food, period," Spurlock said. "All of these guys, they represent taking the time to do something that is special."
Something was a little odd, though, about the partnership between Häagen-Dazs (which, to be fair, is one of the only large commercial ice cream makers not to use chemical stabilizers) and Spurlock, given his reputation for skewering corporate culture and giving executives fits. This is the same guy, remember, who took us down a meta rabbit hole with his quest to make a film about corporate branding completely funded by corporate money.
It was, at the very least, transparent. Rollins directly addressed the elephant in the room at the end of Q&A when he said, "Well... someone has to talk about Häagen-Dazs, and I'm not going to put it on these four people to be the corporate heavies, so I'll do it."