The Globalization Trilogy Series
The final film in Micha X. Peled's Globalization Trilogy examines the epidemic of suicides amongst India's cotton farmers, deeply in debt after switching to genetically modified seeds.
Directed by Micha X. Peled
Produced by Teddy Bear Films
Writer: Micha X. Peled
Camera: Devendra Golatkar
Associate Producer: Prachi Bari
Editor: Loenard Feinstein
Music: Frank Ilfman
Assistant Director: Shyam Dharmadhikari
Sound: Kaamod Kharade
Production Coordinator: Anand Pande
Executive Producer for ITVS: Sally Jo Fifer
A co-production of Teddy Bear Films and the Independent Television Service (ITVS) with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB)
As industrial agriculture spreads around the world, many small-scale farmers are losing their land. Nowhere is the situation more desperate than in India, where every 30 minutes one farmer, deep in debt and unable to provide for his family, commits suicide. It's an epidemic, which has claimed over a quarter million lives.
"Films like this can change the world." Alice Waters, owner Chez Panisse, author and activist
Following a U.S. complaint to the World Trade Organization, India had to open its doors to foreign seed companies like the U.S.-based Monsanto. Now only genetically modified (GM) seeds for some major crops are available at the seed shops. The GM seeds are much more expensive; in addition to precious water, they need additional fertilizers and insecticides and must be re-purchased every season. Large farms have prospered, but the majority of farmers are now struggling to make a living off their land.
Ram Krishna, a cotton farmer at the epicenter of the suicide crisis region, is struggling to keep his land. Manjusha, the neighbors' daughter, is determined to overcome village traditions and become a journalist. Ram Krishna's plight becomes her first assignment.
BITTER SEEDS raises critical questions about the human cost of genetically modified agriculture and the future of how we grow things.
BITTER SEEDS is the final film in Micha X. Peled's Globalization Trilogy. Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town focused on consumption in the U.S., and China Blue investigated the manufacturing of the clothes we all consume. BITTER SEEDS looks at the raw materials. It goes to India and follows the farmers growing the cotton exported to China's garment factories to be used for the clothes sold in the West. Each film explores a deeper layer of the production-consumption chain.
Grade Level: 10-12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2012
Copyright Date: 2011
DVD ISBN: 1-93777-211-X
"Bitter Seeds is a rare opportunity to enter into the lives of third world farmers, if even for a moment. We see their love for the land and each other, and with them, we face their bitter reality. Other films have told us parts of this story, but Bitter Seeds shows us how GMOs are destroying an ancient way of life along with the hopes and dreams of generations of farmers. I'll never forget the story of Ram Krishna. This film will change both how we see the problem of GMO agriculture and, more deeply, how we see the lives of those most affected."
Claire Hope Cummings, Author, Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds
"Films like this can change the world."
Alice Waters, owner Chez Panisse, author and activist
"A profoundly moving film...A must-see to understand the plight of the farming community, not only in India today, but a growing and widening problem of global scale. Consumers around the globe have the choice to end this scandal in their hands, by deciding what they buy and from whom. Pride and sanity can be brought back to the number one human activity: nourish the people and nurture the earth, a farmer's job well done."
Dr. Hans R. Herren, President, The Millennium Institute
"A tragedy for our times."
Michael Pollan, Knight Professor of Journalism, University of California, Berkeley, author The Omnivore's Dilemma
"More than a decade after their introduction, genetically modified seeds remain controversial--perhaps nowhere more than on Indian cotton farms. With great nuance and poignancy this film shows the complex and often tragic interplay of new technologies, traditional practices, illiteracy, and farmer indebtedness on the precarious lives of poor Indian farmers and their families. Anyone concerned about how the current wave of globalization is playing out far beyond the world's great cities should see this film."
Lawrence Busch, Founding Director, Center for the Study of Standards in Society, Professor, Department of Sociology, Michigan State University
"A moving, highly troubling but brilliantly executed depiction of the intrusion of industrial commercial interests into a very tight and dense subsistence agrarian economy in India. All of my experience leads me to believe it is accurate--companies such as Monsanto intrude brutally with imperfect, expensive technology for their own profit...The whole [situation] screams for ecological and historical insights, botanical facts, and sensible governmental regulation in the public interest."
George M. Woodwell, Founder, Director Emeritus, and Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Research Center
"Better than a Batman movie...with real villains making up their own lines."
Peter Sellars, theater director
"A close and riveting look at daily life and farmer suicide in one of the most troubled agricultural areas of the world...It looks closely at the forces of industrial agriculture that lie behind the inescapable debt that drives farmers to suicide."
Dr. Glenn Davis Stone, Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology and Environmental Studies, Washington University
"Candid and personal...The film vividly displays the relationship between farmer suicides in India and the rise of industrialized agriculture, in particular genetically engineered cotton seeds. The result is an honest and heart-wrenching story of the impact of these new farming practices on small cotton farmers and their families."
Rebecca Spector, West Coast Director, Center for Food Safety
"Highly compelling and beautifully filmed. Facts and statistics fail to capture the full tragedy of GMO crops in the global South, so filmmaker Micha Peled has taken a different approach. Bitter Seeds offers a stunningly intimate portrait of two farm families in central India, where aggressive commercial seed dealers have suppressed alternatives to Monsanto's insecticidal Bt cotton...We get to experience the everyday lives behind the grim statistics, and see how farmers are organizing to regain their once-sacred relationship to the land."
Brian Tokar, Director, Institute for Social Ecology, Co-Editor, Agriculture and Food in Crisis, Editor, Redesigning Life?: The Worldwide Challenge to Genetic Engineering
"Brilliant documentary...A film that will never leave you...There are social, environmental, health and economic questions being asked and answered in films like Bitter Seeds. We need to find solutions, as a community, as a nation, and as a planet."
Leslie Hassler, Huffington Post
"A very informative film, jam-packed with information about the Indian village and the global corporation. But it is also highly watchable, because it is so personal and well-constructed around the lives of two specific individuals...Suitable for high school and for college courses in cultural anthropology, development anthropology, economic anthropology, anthropology of globalization, and Indian/South Asian studies, as well as general audiences."
Jack David Eller, Community College of Denver, Anthropology Reviews Database
"Affecting...His emotional, gripping doc should sprout awareness in public-broadcasting and educational quarters...A story compelling enough to support a scripted drama."
Peter Debruge, Variety
"Bitter Seeds exposes the havoc Monsanto has wreaked on rural farming communities in India, and serves as a fierce rebuttal to the claim that genetically modified seeds can save the developing world...The film offers a glimmer of hope in Manjusha, an aspiring journalist in a world where farmers' daughters aren't exactly encouraged to pursue independent careers...This appealing heroine makes a story of global manipulation more personal, and thus more devastating...If GMOs have any benefits, it would be hard to convince me that they outweigh the human costs portrayed in Bitter Seeds."
Claire Thompson, Grist Magazine
"Shows us how much we don't know about genetically modified seeds, their hidden costs and health effects."
"Instead of placing the blame on these larger forces shaping their lives, [the farmers] blame themselves and take their own lives because of the guilt of not being able to pay back loans and, as we see with Kopulnar, the societal shame from not being able to pay for his daughter's dowry. If this doesn't make you want to have your food labeled for GMO ingredients, just remember that Monsanto is also the company that birthed into the world DDT and Agent Orange."
Kalvin Henely, Slant Magazine
"Bitter Seeds emerges as a film about families, and its power lies in wedding facts and testimonies to lyrically rendered portraits...[Micha] Peled enfolds a local tragedy into a global issue. Complementing the engaging narrative is the often-stunning cinematography...The stately poetry of the cotton fields speaks for itself, as do the mortified expressions of farmers whose livelihood is endangered. is one of those rare films whose storytelling economy is matched by visual eloquence."
Ela Bittencourt, Guernica Magazine
"A hard-hitting doc...Beautifully shot and immediately immerses the viewer into life in Telung Takli. The full depth of its issues is too complex to be discussed thoroughly in this limited space, but the global impact should not be underestimated. Bitter Seeds, and the tragic story behind it, is a red alert to the changes Monsanto is making in the world's agriculture."
Jacquelin Sonderling, Whole Life Times Magazine
"[The filmmaker] takes us beyond our superficial Google searches of Monsanto and farmer suicides in India and brings us personal, relatable stories and pushes us past the 'perceived reality that is often controlled by the corporate world,' as he aptly describes it. Reminiscent of Chomsky's call for us to access all information available to us, Micha does a lot of the work for us, and now it's up to us to use his research to take action in our own ways."
"While Bitter Seeds is set half a world away, Peled sheds light on GMO issues experienced worldwide: loss of biodiversity, heavy reliance on petrochemicals, exploitation of farmers and their fields, and destruction of small, independent agriculture...The film poignantly documents the absurdity of pushing agribusiness 'technology' onto India's farmers."
Leia Larsen, The Boulder Stand
Includes deleted scenes, extended interviews, trailers for all three films in Micha Peled's Globalization Trilogy, as well as an excellent 17-page teaching guide, FAQ sheet and footnotes to the FAQ sheet, on the DVD-ROM portion of the disc. Also scene selection and SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
Awards and Festivals
Green Screen and Oxfam Novib Global Justice Awards, IDFA Amsterdam
International Green Film Award, Cinema for Peace, Berlin International Film Festival
Jury Award, Green Film Festival
Telluride Film Festival
Society for Visual Anthropology Ethnographic Film Festival
Palm Springs International Film Festival
"Meet the Docs", Berlin International Film Festival
Movies That Matter Festival, The Hague
Newport Beach Film Festival
Human Rights Watch Film Festival
San Francisco International Film Festival
Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival
Maui Film Festival
Chicago Human Rights Watch Film Festival
Project Native Film Festival
Genetically Modified Foods
A clandestinely shot, deep-access account of how the clothes we buy are actually made.
Looks at the impact on a small town when Wal-Mart plans to build a mega-store there.
Sowing for Need or Sowing for Greed?
The connection between multinational chemical companies and the foods they want us to eat.
Seeds of Plenty, Seeds of Sorrow
The darker side of the Green Revolution.
Genetic diversity in the food supply.
Biotechnology reduces the gene pool of the world's staple food crops.
We Feed the World
Vividly reveals the dysfunctionality of the industrialized world food system and shows what world hunger has to do with us.
A leading chef investigates food safety in the age of GMOs and industrial agriculture.
DIRT! The Movie
The story of Earth's most valuable and underappreciated source of fertility, from its miraculous beginning to its crippling degradation.
A discussion-starter on genetically engineered plants and animals.
Not for Sale
Examines the disturbing new corporate practice of patenting life forms.
Field of Genes
The effects of the biotechnology revolution on farmers and consumers.
A Tribe of His Own
Indian journalist reminds us of the meaning of responsible journalism.
... more Reviews
"[A] tragic true story...powerful...Details the predicament of central Indian cotton farmers, trapped in Monsanto's genetically modified seed scheme."
Pesticide Action Network
"While proponents tout GMO crops as the solution to world hunger, this film provides a glimpse into the significant human costs associated with the rise of multinational corporations and genetically modified seeds."
Jennifer Valentine, OneGreenPlanet.Org
"This is an important film, and for most Americans a prescient film, and it assuredly takes us to a place and immerses us in a way of life we would not have access to other than through the extraordinary commitment of independent filmmakers...Bitter Seeds makes its case with carefully measured words that, long before 90 minutes have passed, have provoked an emotional effect on the viewer. This is fiercely effective activist filmmaking."
Michael Fox, KQED Arts
"Gets to the crux of the problem...Films like Bitter Seeds are pure exasperation for the entire pro-Bt lobby."
Uttara Choudhury, Firstpost
"Given the impact of China Blue, I was somewhat on edge as I prepared to view [Bitter Seeds]...It is exquisitely cinematic--shot like a movie, with an omnipresent lens...Highly recommended."
Gar Smith, The Berkeley Daily Planet
"Poignant and insightful...Surprisingly beautifully shot scenes of an intimate family drama that takes place over a season of growing cotton...This is not a dreary film: Underneath it all is a strong sense of humanity."
David Lewis, San Francisco Chronicle
"Bitter Seeds doesn't fool around, not while the enormity persists."
Jonathan Kiefer, The Village Voice
"At times painful, uplifting, anger inducing, and consistently thought provoking, the third film in Micha Peled's Globalization trilogy is probably his best."
Josh Ball, The Royal Gazette
"An alarming trend...An eye-opening view of the rickety nature of India's agricultural sector."
"[The film's] quiet, humble approach belies its five-alarm message...The most telling moments come in Bitter Seeds' many closeups of its subjects' faces. Krishna and his wife's numb reactions to insect swarms and moneylender demands speak to the sense of hopelessness."
Janet Smith, Straight.com