A fight is underway to save the world's greatest traditional artisanal cheeses... and preserve a way of life almost as old as Western Civilization. "RAW: The global fight to save real cheese" is a multi-part documentary series that takes us into the lives of a handful of the world's greatest cheesemakers who - despite their wonderful products with reputations for excellence - are fighting for the survival of their livelihood and way of life. The series offers privileged access to the workrooms and homes of these passionate and driven characters. It's a sweeping story that plays against stereotypes. This isn't an old vs new story, with a simplistic 'the old ways are better' theme. It's much more nuanced and engaging than that, telling a story that is timely and important addressing themes of globalisation, industrialisation of agriculture and cultural heritage. Here are the facts: In the "Old World" of continental Europe some of the greatest and most celebrated cheeses are endangered and going extinct. Meanwhile in the "New World" of Australia, New Zealand and the US, artisanal cheese makers - inspired by ancient techniques - are creating entirely new products with new flavour profiles, in effect 'reinventing the wheel'. But they are confronting their own challenges, from regulators and the large manufacturers who are trying to "bottle farmstead magic". The series asks big questions: what can we as consumers do to preserve much-loved cheeses like Camembert? Can science save the traditional ways of life by providing sound scientific arguments for maintaining traditional work practices currently deemed unsafe by regulators? Or, is science going to find ways to produce cheese that is as delicious as traditional artisanal cheese, but at a lower price, and wipe out centuries of heritage and culture? Will the top New World Cheesemakers discover a way forward that might yet save the Old World Cheesemakers from cultural extinction?
How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?
1. The project exists to raise awareness of the loss of highly prized artisan raw milk cheeses in the 'old world'. Some of the world's most famous cheeses, such as Camembert, are threatened with extinction in their traditional forms - by increasing monopolisation and industrialisation of food manufacturing and the 'frog in a pot' creep of red tape and bureaucracy. The series also weaves another story which raises awareness of the high quality 'new world' cheeses being produced in places like Australia and the US. These cheesemakers are trying to convince the marketplace that their more expensive cheeses are worth the price. It's a battle to change the buying habits of Western consumers who have for decades made food choices based largely on price before quality. These farmers and cheesemakers have staked their future on value adding to raw milk as a way to survive the industrialisation of farming and the power of the milk coops. They too face seemingly insurmountable challenges from governments opposed to the use of raw (unpasteurized) milk in food production. Two worlds, facing unique challenges, united by a desire to create quality cheese products and find a way to make small-scale farming and food production economical again. In this respect, they share values with the "old ways" movement in the US and elsewhere that advocates for artisan cheesemaking as a means to preserve cultural heritage and terroir.
2. The ambition for the film is to be a call to action. Once people appreciate the threat to the livelihoods of the artisans and the loss of cherished food products - some with hundreds of years of history behind them - we feel we can be part of a "revolution" in our approach to buying, selling and growing 'value-added' foods like cheese. Our hope is that we will become part of the dialogue around "slow food" and tap into the growing support for organisations like the US "Old Ways Cheese Coalition". Part of the vision is to convert the consumer market to the idea that good cheese (like good wine) is worth paying for.
3. We want to share the important idea that food created by smallholding farmers sold in local markets is healthier, and a sustainable way to live. We want people to value flavour, understand the real cost of food production and see that as a price worth paying. Only when consumers can shift their attitudes from a solely price-point concept of food buying to one based on provenance and flavour and shared responsibility will we create a future that has a place for smallholding farming to survive the encroachment of agri-business and giant vertically integrated food production monopolies.
What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?
Aims & Objectives
We are aiming high. We anticipate this documentary series, with its emphasis on stunning high-end image quality, blended with a powerful story about the social impact on a traditional way of life and a timely message about the importance of traditional cheesemaking, provenance and respect for the environment, will find a significant audience on broadcast and streaming services. The Netflix series "Chef's Table" is a good visual reference for the series (as can be seen in the “Raw” sizzle reel). We would also like to create a cinema version (weaving the episodes into a 100-minute version) of the film for the festival circuit - the international festival audience is one, we believe, will be highly receptive to the film's messages.
The series also has great potential for the secondary educational sector, not just here but also overseas. We aim for DVD sales, supported by an informative website and PPV downloadable version and an ATOM designed study guide. We use poignant personal stories to illustrate themes of environmental stewardship, care for the planet, preserving traditional ways of life and animal husbandry, all of which are 'on message' for the education market.
We aim to gain financial assistance from, and share our message through, the growing "Old Ways" Movement in the US who share many of the philosophies that underpin this series. We want people to understand first what is traditional cheese, secondly to alert the public to the fact that time-honoured and delicious traditional cheeses are being lost every year, and finally to connect these stories to a broader message about environmental stewardship, the value of artisanal food production for both cultural and health reasons.
Finally, we aim to create empathy with the plight of these talented artisan cheesemakers, most of whom produce their own raw milk from their own heritage breed cows. The cheesemakers have been chosen not just because of their quality products, but because they are great characters. They are all, part artisan, part salesperson, part evangelist for a different way of life. Chefs and Winemakers have become celebrities over the past decade, perhaps it is time for the cheesemakers to achieve recognition for their commitment to quality, heritage, and sustainability.
What is your education and outreach strategy?
We will create bridging material and commission a study guide through ATOM to connect and promote the documentary series to the expanding educational sector. With supporting cine-literacy material we aim to have this film included in curriculum or as a teaching aid for one or more of the following VCE subjects: Food Studies, Health and Human Development, Agricultural and Horticultural Studies, Global Politics and Environmental Science.
A key to the strategy will be to enter the film in the ATOM awards. In researching this application I came across "Education paths for documentary distribution: DAF, ATOM and the study guides that bind them" by Ruari Elkington & Sean Maher. They discovered that 50% of all successful DAF productions had an educational strategy involving ATOM. As an educator myself, who is engaged by ATOM to run workshops on documentary film craft, and as a judge of the ATOM industry documentary awards, I think I am uniquely placed to have a clear insight into the requirements both for development of study guides and the requirements of films that are successful at the ATOM awards.
I would also seek support from DAF in a role as a cultural philanthropic bridge between individuals, foundations, and corporations. A marketing strategy and resources (EPK, DCP etc) will be produced for the documentary series targeting the festival audiences in addition to the supplementary campaign targeting the educational sector. Using figures gained from analyzing Screenrights licensing fees the Education Sector of Documentary market is estimated to be worth more than $10Million dollars. Even a small share of that market makes it worth pursuing the education sector as a strategy.