Damon Gameau’s feature documentary about the detrimental effects of refined sugar and excess fructose on our health is both educative and entertaining. The central message of That Sugar Film (2015) is that the calories from sugar behave differently from other foods. Recalling Morgan Spurlock’s McDonald’s overdose in Super-Size Me (2004), Gameau set himself the task of eating the equivalent of 40 teaspoons of sugar a day for sixty days and filmed the experiment.
However, he did not eat junk food and confectionary or drink fizzy drinks, but consumed only those foods and juices perceived as healthy. Gameau’s body was a clean slate as he had not eaten refined sugar for three years. As he amply demonstrates many low fat yoghurts, muesli bars, cereals and fruit smoothies are laden with sugar. Even juicing fresh fruit creates excess fructose that can be damaging to our teeth and waistlines. By the end of the experiment Gameau had developed fatty liver disease and dramatically increased his risk of Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease as well as adding 11cm to his girth.
Along the way, Gameau consulted various specialists, who measured his waistline and mood swings. He also travelled across America to talk to some leading experts and food scientists. In one chilling interview, a scientist claimed that sugar wasn’t a problem and then it emerged he worked for Coca Cola. In Kentucky, Gameau met children suffering from ‘Mountain Dew Mouth’ (caused by overindulging in Pepsi’s famous drink). One teenager had to have all his teeth removed.
In Amata, Australia, an Aboriginal community believes sugar is killing them through obesity – in a town of 350 people, 40,000 litres of soft drinks are consumed every year. Gameau, originally an actor (Underbelly, The Tracker, Balibo), is an entertaining and likeable presenter. Realising the need to win over the next generation, he’s squarely aimed That Sugar Film at both adults and children. Gameau and his DP, Judd Overton, employ bright palettes, invigorating music clips and clever animation techniques, which include Gameau climbing up a rope through his nose into his brain to explore the effects of sugar.
Talking heads become part of the food packaging, with specialists framed by the label on a cereal box, for example. There are also some star turns from various Australian actors and even Britain’s Stephen Fry. Although the science could have been a little more rigorous, and Gameau’s interactions with his wholesome, pregnant girlfriend are occasionally rather nauseating, That Sugar Film should be applauded for boldly and effectively confronting the worrying rise in obesity in sugar-rich countries.