Sugar Coated 2015
Distributed by Media Education Foundation, 60 Masonic St., Northampton, MA 01060; 800-897-0089
Produced by The Cutting Factory
Directed by Michéle Hozer
DVD, color, 88 min.
High School - General Adult
Business, Food, History, Industries, Marketing, Nutrition, Obesity, Public Health,
Date Entered: 03/26/2018Reviewed by Alan Witt, Business Librarian, SUNY Geneseo
Sugar Coated is a polemical documentary with the twin goals of educating the public about the dangers of the amount of sugar in everyday life, and making its viewers quiver with foreboding whenever they hear the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” The film details the history of the sugar industry, the growing presence of sugar in the food supply, the sugar versus fat argument in nutrition scholarship, the biological effects of sugar, and similarities between the sugar industry’s tactics and that of the tobacco industry. It’s argument, in a nutshell, is that sugar is the new tobacco.
The film is very effective in getting its message across. It switches between various formats, ranging from historical footage, personal interviews and stories, and voiceover animations about nutritional information and science. This keeps the pacing quick and active, and the film capitalizes on this with an excellent soundtrack (including several variants on the aforementioned “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”). It is a film with a strong viewpoint, with a uniformly negative portrayal of figures who offer a dissenting opinion. The film cycles through speakers expressing varying views on the toxicity and dangers of sugar, subtly shifting the Overton Window by implicitly framing these positions as debating one another. The way the interviewees present their evidence is compelling, and is bolstered by an array of narratives that support their view. These include comparing obesity rates and health in Okinawa after the injection of foreign diets, telling the story an endurance athlete who has health issues from the sugar in his diet, documenting the money trails between the sugar industry and scientists who downplay the dangers of sugar, and interviews with medical professionals. The inclusion of many different viewpoints make the argument both convincing and engaging, and allows viewers to make emotional connections with individual stories while engaging on an intellectual level with the bigger picture.
These interviews, animations, and clips weave together to drive home the point that in regards to sugar we are (as a society) at the same point as the tobacco debates three decades prior. This gives the film a subtly hopeful edge to it, pointing to the potential for progress and implying an ultimate victory to come. It also promotes the notion that individual activism and advocacy will have an effect; this point is subtly bolstered throughout with references to the number of views on the YouTube videos produced by the anti-sugar advocates.
While it has a high price point, this video has a lot of potential for classroom use, either in high schools or college. It provides a variable runtime, including both a 60-minute version and a 90-minute version on the DVD. This provides a lot of value in academia, where those times correspond nicely to standard course schedules. The abbreviated version cuts some redundancy and shortens many of the scenic shots, but loses nothing in the way of strength for the reduction. Sugar Coated also has a penchant for shifting formats, making it easy to mine the film for short clips. The animated sections make for 5/10-minute viewing segments, and the film is organized in such a way as to make it easy to pull out specific themes or arguments for the classroom. For librarians, one of Sugar Coated’s recurring film tricks is to bold the keywords in any sentence they put on screen, then to fade out and briefly leave those bolded words visible: an excellent introduction to keywords. Finally, the film has cross-disciplinary appeal intersecting with public health, nutrition, sociology, history, and rhetoric.
Sugar Coated is a film with a position, but that position carries the potential to spark classroom discussion, activism, or scholarship. It is well presented, easy to use in the classroom, and extremely engaging, and despite the high price it would make an excellent addition to any public, school, or academic library.