Newly formed Film Society screens ’ÄòDive!’

The documentary sheds light on supermarket waste.

By Michael Aushenker / Special to The Malibu Times

First-time filmmaker Jeremy Seifert took his eye-opening debut, “Dive!,” to Pepperdine University following Labor Day weekend in what became the inaugural screening and meeting of the freshly formed Pepperdine University Film Society.

Seifert’s documentary follows the Pasadena resident and his friends as they dumpster dive in the garbage receptacles of Los Angeles’ supermarkets, salvaging thousands of dollars worth of edible food in the process. Lacing “Dive!” with humor and stop-motion segues, Seifert leavens the laughs with serious subtext: the 96 billion pounds of perfectly good food that is disposed each year, which could easily feed this country’s 11 million hungry and 40 million on food stamps, is not reaching these Americans.

Zach Garrett and Paul Casey of the student cinema society, and Professor Craig Detweiler, the Film Society’s faculty sponsor and head of the school’s Communications Center for Entertainment, Media and Culture, were on-hand to receive Seifert. They were joined post-screening by Film Society President Zane Miller, who moderated a discussion with Seifert before the 40 students in attendance.

Miller, Garrett and Casey conceived the Film Society this year while shooting their movie, “Life is Not a Musical: The Musical.” The trio met Seifert at Kappa Studios, a post-production facility in Burbank. “Life” will debut at the society’s November meeting.

Siefert took his film to Pepperdine because he feels that a movement for zero waste can foment across college campuses. Indeed, Garrett said the film’s themes made a perfect lead-in for the university’s annual Step Forward Day, a social service effort that took place Saturday.

“Dive!” starts out showing Seifert, his wife Jen and two young sons, and his friends dining decadently on gourmet food rescued from a Trader Joe’s dumpster the night before.

“I eat better dumpster diving than I ever did before,” Seifert says in the 45-minute movie. “Better meats than we can afford to buy!”

The group finds so much premium food that Seifert gets a freezer just to contain his year’s supply of quality meat.

The dumpster diving (or “nonviolent civil disobedience,” as Seifert’s friend calls it) invites occasional police run-ins, and, as the recession deepens during the 2009 shoot, a tragic new breed of divers. As the film evolves, Seifert initiates an uphill battle of trying to reach a Trader Joe’s executive in an effort to redirect the waste to local food banks to reach struggling Angelenos. None of the representatives from California’s major supermarket chains agree to talk on camera, and a month-long letter campaign to Trader Joe’s CEO only yields a warning from Trader’s nervous PR department.

The film expresses another frustration with a lack of infrastructure to transport food from willing supermarkets to food distribution centers. “Dive!” also points out a disturbing irony: instead of reaching recycling plants, Trader Joe’s environmentally friendly packaging ends up in garbage dumps.

“Dive!” is loaded with statistics to hit home the obscenity of the waste’s scale: the disposal of 96 billion pounds of food costs $136 billion annually to process: “We’re feeding our landfills as much as we’re feeding our people,” creating destructive methane gases.

The film ends asking broader questions: “Do we value the earth? Have we lost our connection to creation? Has the earth become just another product for us to consume?”

During the post-screening discussion session, Seifert acknowledged that the impetus for his film did not begin with noble aspirations or social activism in mind. Seifert, a member of the band Jubilee Singers (featured on the “Dive!” soundtrack), was made aware of the abundance of riches that is supermarket trash after musician friends, visiting from Philadelphia, brought to his Pasadena home loads of food retrieved from the dumpster of his local Trader Joe’s. After trying it himself, Seifert explained, “I became more upset! Food represents life and it shouldn’t be thrown away. That sense of outrage and social justice inspired this film.”

Seifert, who calls himself a “casual dumpster diver,” noted that neither he nor his family or friends have ever gotten sick from this practice. Making his point, he revealed that the night before he had taken several Film Society members on a dumpster dive and coaxed them into eating the jalapeno yogurt cheese, eggs and Greek olives they had found.

Although Trader’s Joe’s takes the brunt of his Michael Moore escapades, Seifert said his film is not targeting Trader’s per se but commenting on a broader culture of supermarket waste. He listed Ralphs, Vons, Safeway, Whole Foods, Costco and Sam’s Club as equally culpable and credited Albertsons for having the most evolved “fresh rescue” system of delivering its garbage-bound food to the needy. Since completing his film, Seifert has broken through Trader’s corporate firewall to meet with a higher-up official, although results are pending.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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