THE FRUIT HUNTERS directed by Yung Chang, written by Chang, Mark Slutsky and Mila Aung-Thwin, from the book by Adam Leith Gollner. A KinoSmith release. 95 minutes. Opens Friday (November 23) at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. See times. See movie review.
Yung Chang has been a fruit guy all his life.
"There's always a nostalgic connection to it," the Montreal filmmaker says over a bowl of soup at the Green Grind on College, multi-tasking on a press day for his new documentary, The Fruit Hunters.
"For me it was travelling to Taipei as a child to visit my grandparents and having the privilege to eat fresh durian and lychee and things like that. But it didn't really get kick-started till the term ‘fruit hunters' was placed in front of me."
Chang's friend Adam Leith Gollner gave him a copy of his new book - and introduced him to a culinary subculture he'd never imagined existed.
"I felt like I could embark on a work that was full of imagination and not tethered by any sort of cinema vérité approach like with [my previous films] China Heavyweight or Up The Yangtze," he says. "A journey of fact-finding and soul-searching. Do these fruit hunters actually exist? Is there such a thing as the Rare Fruit Council International? I went out and found them, and that began my entry into this world."
Once he got going, though, it proved difficult to stop.
"I wanted to eat more, find more, taste more," Chang says. "It's kind of an overwhelming obsession, you know. You find something that's so beautiful, seductive, fresh - it's almost sculptural in a way - and it comes off a tree! You can find things that seem newer and newer all the time."
It's the quest for the next better thing, he believes.
"There's nothing like that first ‘aha' moment when you eat that perfect fruit, whatever it may be," Chang says. "That's alluring, and that was the mission of these fruit hunters. It's an infinite, endless journey. Someone described it in the book as turning a funnel upside down and just kind of falling through that."
The film introduces us to an interesting assortment of folks.
"In the world of the fruit hunters, I found, there are different sects," he explains. "It's often a world of cultivating, growing and creating. Some people, though, [have] kind of tipped over the edge of insanity - they covet their fruit and do not want to share it. But generally, my experience was with people who just wanted to give."
Following fruit hunters requires a lot of stamina, as Chang and his production team would discover.
"We were flying to Borneo for a week and then rushing back to a farm in Homestead, Florida," he says. The doc also shot in Bali, Montreal, Hawaii, Honduras, Italy - oh, and the Hollywood Hills home of Independence Day actor Bill Pullman, who first turns up in the film sampling a mango-like delicacy with almost satyr-like glee.
Pullman's delight in the tastes and textures of the fruit he samples throughout the doc becomes its best running gag.
"It's not debauchery," Chang says of his unlikely star's appetite. "It's sly: ‘I wanna share this piece.' The fruit dealers we meet in the film, they have that technique of invitation, of making you want it. To salivate over it. As Bill describes it, they're the drug dealers at the coffee table who give such a spiel that you can't just want a taste. You gotta have it all."