That Sugar Film


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

That Sugar Film
"The inventiveness sweetens up his message so that it is likely to hold the interest of teenagers as well as adults, giving it the potential to be a great educational tool."

There is no doubting the similarities between the directorial debut of actor-turned-documentarian Damon Gameau and Morgan Spurlock's break-out Super Size Me. Both films see their directors turn themselves into human guinea pigs to test whether an eating regime has unhealthy consequences and both use an eye-catching set of gimmicks and techniques to keep audiences engaged.

The big difference is that even a young child would probably suspect that eating massive hamburgers and fries for every meal is bad for you, whereas Gameau opts only to consume the average daily Aussie intake of sugar - albeit a whopping 40 teaspoons - via 'healthy foods'. That means no ice-cream, chocolate or doughnuts, just juices, cereal bars and the likes of low-fat yoghurt - and he maintains his regular workout regime. He starts the diet from a good base, having cut out refined sugar from his diet a couple of years previously in order to impress the woman who is, at the start of the film, soon to become the mother of his first child.

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The results are pretty shocking and his illustrations of what is happening to his body via cutesy ideas such as snorting himself up his own nose to check out his brain are effective. The day in which he demonstrates just how much sweet stuff is in some of the products he is eating by switching them out for the white sugar equivalent are also likely to horrify mums - instead of a cereal bar for an afternoon snack, for example, he trades it out for two wafer biscuits filled with cubes of sugar.

If that isn't enough to set your teeth on edge, then his side trip to Kentucky almost certainly will be. There he investigates the impact of Mountain Dew on the oral health of the residents with pretty grim results. The same is true of an excursion to an aboriginal town where banning Coca-Cola resulted in a huge improvement in health. While he doesn't dwell on the way that corporations manipulate food in order to sell more of it, he highlights strong specific examples that give pause for thought. Gameau is less successful when his film strays into the psuedo-science of whether sugar could be fuelling consumerism in general, but when he is dealing with biological facts and statistics the information is presented clearly.

Gameau uses every trick in the book to get his point across - from celebrity cameos by Stephen Fry and Hugh Jackman to animated illustrations and wince-inducing footage of one poor soul in agony in the dentist's chair. Like Spurlock, he isn't afraid to let it all hang out and is seen jumping up and down in nothing but Y-fronts to push home the 'wobble factor' of his new diet. It's almost as though the whole thing was written while under the influence of a sugar high (which much of it may well have been). These techniques certainly keep things moving along and the inventiveness sweetens up his message so that it is likely to hold the interest of teenagers as well as adults, giving it the potential to be a great educational tool. Of course, an experiment on one person isn't cut-and-dried proof but it does suggest the need for considerable more research in this area - and you'll certainly never look at a smoothie in quite the same way again.

Reviewed on: 09 Jun 2015
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Health documentary about sugar in our food.
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EIFF 2015

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Fed Up
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Super Size Me