How a short films contest sparks powerful films and spreads underreported stories around the world

A few years ago, I stumbled on a contest for film students. It was being run by one of the biggest booze companies in the world. I’d seen other big food corporations push similar contests and student engagement campaigns, and it became clear to me how the industry was using these opportunities to indoctrinate a new generation to its messages.

At the time, I thought it would be great if we could create our own contest—a sort of people’s contest for short films on food, farming and sustainability. From that idea, my team and I launched Real Food Films with an inaugural judges panel that included journalist Michael Pollan, chef and founder of The Edible Schoolyard Alice Waters, chef Tom Colicchio and the Jamie Oliver Foundation among others.

When we started the contest, I was afraid my naysayer friends would be right: A short films contest on food, they said, aren’t you worried yoou’ll just get paeans to artisanal pizza?

With the generous assistance of dozens of advisors, media partners, advocacy organizations and schools, we launched the contest with fingers crossed. Three years later, we have been blown away by the submissions we have received—440 in all. We’ve learned about progressive public health policies in the eastern United States; young activists in Salt Lake City, Utah fighting hunger; young people’s poetics about the cultural colonization of Big Soda and lots of films about the farmers and food workers at the heart of the food chain.

This year’s finalists include a moving story about a vineyard in California’s Napa Valley providing dignified employment for their workers; about a visionary organic farmer in Japan; the threat of climate change to local food traditions—and much more.

We believe these stories—and more like them—hold power: they spark imagination, ignite community conversations and are the catalyst we need to make our food system work for all of us—not just some of us.

As part of our vision, we’ve created an easy way to share these films in your own community. Our Pop-Up Film Fests are free to anyone who wants to host one. To date, more than 250 Pop-Ups have been officially registered around the world, from New Zealand to New York City. Tune in online or step up to host your own Pop-Up Film Fest and join the #FoodRevolution.


About Anna Lappé

Anna Lappé is a national bestselling author and educator, known for her work as an expert on food systems and as a sustainable food advocate. She is the co-founder of the Small Planet Fund and Small Planet Institute. She currently directs Real Food Media, which catalyzes storytelling and filmmaking about sustainability and justice along the food chain through Real Food Films, Food MythBusters, and other collaborative initiatives.