A larrikin look at sinful sugar


That Sugar Film (PG). Director: Damon Gameau. Starring: Damon Gameau. 97 minutes

In 2011, Underbelly and Balibo actor Damon Gameau had just won Tropfest with his kooky stop-motion Animal Beatbox, when he started to become fascinated with sugar. By then, the anti-sugar movement had started to gain traction in its efforts to place the blame for the West’s ill health squarely on sugar.

Gameau had been sugar-free for years, following the lead of his girlfriend, actor Zoe Tuckwell-Smith. What better way, then, to put the sweet stuff to the ultimate test than by pulling a 'Morgan Spurlock', and using himself as a guinea pig to see just what impact a high-sugar diet would have. The documentary that resulted, That Sugar Film, is part colourful confection — with the slightly larrikin and very funny Gameau at its sweet, chewy centre — and part nutritious feast of facts and expert opinions.

The experiment is overseen by a team of health and nutrition experts, who monitor the impacts on Gameau's body and offer an insight into just what is going on inside his body. And the impacts are indeed astonishing: in 60 days he gains eight-and-a-half kilos, and develops early symptoms of diabetes and fatty liver disease.

Gameau's quest also takes him to the Northern Territory, where the prevalence of, particularly, high-sugar beverages has taken a dire toll upon remote Indigenous communities, whose education about and access to nutritious foods has been stymied by government policy; and to America, the junk food heartland, where he yarns with spin doctors for the food industry and witnesses the excruciating dental procedure a Kentucky teenager endures to reverse the hideous effects of 'Mountain Dew Mouth'.

The comparisons between That Sugar Film and Spurlock's 2004 film Supersize Me — which did for McDonald's what Gameau now hopes to do for sugar — are inevitable. Yet in many ways Gameau's case is the more compelling. While the negative impacts of Spurlock's all-Maccas diet were hardly surprising, Gameau reached his 40-teaspoons-a-day quota (equivalent to an average Australian adult) and suffered the consequences eating only perceived 'healthy' foods — cereal, low-fat yoghurt, fruit juice etc.

Moreover, his calorie intake during the experiment more or less resembles that of his usual diet, which consists mostly of protein, healthy fats and vegetables; a fact that seems to put the lie to the overly simplistic 'calories in, calories out' line peddled by the mainstream food and health industries.

The film makes extensive use of animation and skits to convey its barrage of information and game-changing message. Hugh Jackman appears as a raconteur expounding sugar's history, and Stephen Fry delivers a lecture in Seussian rhyme about different types of sugar. It's a lot of fun, and a genuine conversation-starter; a sugary romp with a bitter truth at its core.

That Sugar Film is screening in cinemas across Australia and New Zealand during March and April. For session details check the That Sugar Film website.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is assistant editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Damon Gameau, That Sugar Film, Morgan Spurlock



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Existing comments

Dare I hope that vocal duo Sugarland are part of this cinematic experience? That would be the icing on the cake.
Pam | 12 March 2015

Thanks for the review Tim. I am hoping to see it as I have read a lot about the topic recently and the 'hidden' amounts of sugar lurking in 'everyday' foods.
Paul | 12 March 2015

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