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Australia 2014
Directed by
Damon Gameau
90 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

That Sugar Film

Synopsis: A documentary looking at the widespread use of sugar in processed foods.     

Actor turned film-maker Damon Gameau's documentary is an unabashed reworking of Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me from 10 years ago with the target of attention being refined sugar instead of the Big Mac.  Thematically speaking, unsurprisingly, the two films have much in common but Gameau’s effort goes its own way notably in its cleverly eye-catching handling of its material.

The core premise is that each day the average consumes scarfs down 40 teaspoons of sugar "hidden" in processed foods which are often marketed as healthy on supermarket shelves. Gameau, a former sugar junkie who has been sugar neutral for three years, will consume said amount of the sweet stuff and document the effect on his health.

Forty teaspoons of sugar sounds like a lot but Gameau easily demonstrates that this is not the case.  Somewhat alarmingly he actually manages to eat this much by choosing “healthy” foods (fruit juice, yoghurt, breakfast cereals and so on) from the supermarket shelves – labels which most people will readily recognize.

From this starting point the documentary scuds over a wide range of material: it looks at how sugar is processed by our bodies, how food manufacturers secrete “bliss points” into their products to appeal to consumers and so on as Gameau documents his weight gain and mood swings. He also travels to the Northern Territory to raise an alarm about the poor food choices available to Aboriginal communities and the USA, needless to say home to all sugar evil (the segment dealing with the deleterious effects of a Pepsi-owned soft drink called Mountain Dew on a trailer-trash youth is particularly gruesome).

All this and more is packaged with interviews with well-informed talking heads, cameos from Hugh Jackman and Stephen Fry, and gleeful post-production razzamatazz that help to make the medicine go down very nicely.

Of course sugar intake is socio-economically correlated but there are probably few people who will not be checking the labels of processed food they have hitherto unthinkingly bought as a result of seeing this entertainingly provocative and informative film.




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