Thank goodness for Free Range Studios. The little Washington, D.C.-based marketing company/viral video producer has pumped new life into the lackluster but important field of socially conscious filmmaking. Perhaps you’ve seen their work: The Meatrix, a three-part Flash animated spoof of The Matrix revealing the realities of factory farming, was viewed by more than 4.2 million in its first three months online.
Recognizing a successful formula, Free Range has continued to attach other social causes to mainstream films with similar results. Two of their most recent examples are included in the upcoming screening of Patagonia’s Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival—and one in particular stands out as six of the funniest minutes ever spent preaching the virtues of organic vegetables.
The Grocery Store Wars may be cheesier than the Tillamook section at Safeway, but the laughs far outweigh the groans. It features the likes of Obi Wan Cannoli, Cuke Skywalker, Princess Lettuce, C3 Peanuts, Tofu D2, Ham Solo and ChewBroccoli fighting “the dark side of the farm,” led by none other than Darth Tater. In addition to the names and a nearly word-for-word parody (“Search your peelings, Cuke”), Free Range also uses real vegetables as live-action puppets—Cuke, for instance, is a cucumber with blond hair and white robe, and a slit two-thirds the way up for a mouth. Keep an eye out for two particularly imaginative parts: a recreation of the Mos Eisley Cantina scene, which here is called The Salad Bar and includes a similarly skuzzy crowd, and a dramatic lightsaber duel between Cuke and Tater on a hanging vegetable scale.
Free Range’s second offering, The DaVersity Code, uses The Da Vinci Code’s setup to explain biodiversity. This Flash animation would’ve been funnier if Robert Penguin’s hair looked a little bit more like Tom Hanks’ hairdon’t in the film, but it’s still clever.
The rest of the collection—11 films ranging from five to 60 minutes long and totaling nearly three hours of programming—resembles standard environmental fare. The real Ham Solo, aka Harrison Ford, narrates a compelling look at how the Environmental Defense Fund plans to restore California’s Hetch Hetchy valley inside Yosemite National Park. Of particular interest to locals may be Buffalo Field Campaign, a seven minute summary of the mission and most recent work done by the bison saviors in Yellowstone National Park, and America’s Lost Landscape: Tallgrass Prairie, which took honors at both the International Wildlife Film Festival and CINE Film Festival in 2005. Each film addresses immediately dire issues, but somehow I found myself caring most about the destruction of the Death Melon.
Patagonia’s Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival screens locally Thursday, Nov. 15, at 6:30 PM at the Roxy Theatre, $10 with food and drinks provided. Proceeds benefit the WildWest Institute.