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Common Ground (2023) - Movie Review

Josh and Rebecca Tickell's documentary, "Common Ground," delves into the topic of regenerative agriculture as a potential solution for our planet's environmental crises. Despite its noble intentions, the film unfortunately comes across as a less effective parody of celebrity-driven activism. The documentary primarily focuses on American agriculture, using celebrities like Laura Dern, Woody Harrelson, Rosario Dawson, and Jason Momoa to deliver simplified explanations of complex issues.

The film opens and closes with a rather clichéd montage featuring celebrities penning messages in a journal for future generations. This melodramatic approach culminates with footage of an infant's foot bathed in sunlight, accompanied by Dern's grave narration, emphasizing the urgency of the environmental situation.

However, "Common Ground" falls short in offering practical solutions or actions viewers can take, which is a significant drawback in a world where individual power to effect change feels limited. The documentary doesn't delve into this tension between highlighting systemic issues and empowering viewers to take action.

Another contradictory aspect of "Common Ground" is its dual emphasis on the environmental benefits of regenerative agriculture and its profitability. The film touches upon the shift from traditional farming methods, particularly those of indigenous tribes, to profit-driven agricultural practices by early American colonists. While it commendably includes insights from a few indigenous farmers and ecological scholar Lyla June Johnston, the majority of its on-screen contributors are white American farmers. This lack of diversity is further accentuated by a superficial treatment of Dr. George Washington Carver's significant contributions to agricultural science, marred by the documentary's simplistic visual style and heavy-handed narration.

The film incorporates global nature imagery but primarily focuses on the American industrial agricultural system. This approach is conveyed through a somewhat paranoid lens, narrowing its scope to certain aspects of the American food system and overlooking broader impacts on everyday Americans.

One segment critically examines the contradiction of the USDA labeling certain foods as unhealthy while subsidizing their production. "Common Ground" proposes that regenerative farms, which typically lack government subsidies, could improve grocery store offerings. Yet, it fails to address deeper systemic issues like food deserts, which disproportionately affect communities of color. The documentary doesn't explore whether crops from regenerative farms would be accessible to all Americans, let alone a global population.

The film's visual choices also reflect its skewed perspective. In a perplexing decision, footage of a Coachella-like, blonde, white woman is used to represent a "healthy human," revealing a narrow and idealized view of health.

Ultimately, "Common Ground" presents itself as a well-intentioned public service announcement, simplifying the complexities of American agricultural history, practices, and systems into an easily digestible narrative. It promotes a message of hope as a sufficient agent for change, focusing on individual choices rather than collective action or government accountability. The documentary seems to align more with the format of an inspirational Instagram post than a rigorous exploration of environmental solutions, leaving viewers with a sense of superficial understanding and unfulfilled potential for deeper engagement with the issues at hand.