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The Fruit Hunters: a naughty thrill ride into the realm of exotic edibles

Ripe, juicy mangos, rich Bing cherries, creamy durian, sweet-tasting miracle fruit, fleshy cherimoyas… For acclaimed Montreal filmmaker Yung Chang (Up the Yangtze, China Heavyweight), traveling the world in search of exotic, mouth-watering fruits with an army of experts turned into a dangerous obsession. The Fruit Hunters, his love letter to these rare, savoury delights and to the intrepid globetrotters fighting against industrialized monoculture, is now on the big screen to titillate us all.

After reading fellow Montrealer Adam Leith Gollner’s bestselling book, The Fruit Hunters, A Story of Nature, Adventure, Commerce and Obsession, Chang wanted to look into why we can only find five types of fruit at our local supermarket, among other things. Zip-lining his narrative from Borneo, Honduras and Italy to California, Chang’s engrossing doc celebrates humankind’s longstanding relationship with (often phallus-shaped) fruit through the testimony of a fertile crop of experts. There’s a fruit detective hunting down long-lost produce depicted in Renaissance-era artworks, a Latin scientist breeding a banana that’s resistant to a deadly fungus, and affable L.A. actor Bill Pullman (Lost Highway, Independence Day), who campaigns to turn a lush crop of land under the mythical Hollywood sign into a community orchard.

The film, which premiered a few weeks ago at the RIDM, certainly doesn’t hold back where erotic shots of people experiencing full-blown fruitgasms is concerned. As a matter of fact, Cinéma Excentris is holding its own fruit-tasting snack counter over the next few days, to satiate the forbidden urge that will take you over as the credits roll. “After the screening at the RIDM, we were handing out apples and a few people came up to me and said, ‘This is the best apple I’ve ever tasted!’”, recalls Chang earlier this week. “I actually think that watching the movie and then eating the apple, there was a deeper appreciation. I wonder if that’s the effect…”


Here are 5 things NIGHTLIFE.CA learned from this friendly filmmaker and fully outed fruit enthusiast:

1. Chang thinks we should all become fruit hunters.
"Really, we grew up with fruit; we cultivated fruits and fruits seduced us. But we got so good at cultivating fruit that we made it into a monoculture. Since then, we’ve sort of lost that connection. It’s inside of us, it’s in our DNA – we just need to unlock it. That’s what was driving me when making this movie: how to find the fruit hunter within."

Stills from The Fruit Hunters

2. Chang believes the strong appreciation we may have for a particular fruit isn’t so much about taste, but a question of instinct and nostalgia.
"I think that is very telling of the power of fruit. It’s not the physical fruit itself, the apple or whatever, but the story and memory that you have around it, that explain why it’s your favourite fruit. That’s very profound."

"Fruit hunters I’ve met, who sell varieties of fruit in North America to immigrants, tell me that when their customers come to try a particular kind of foreign fruit – for instance, an Asian trying a jujube or Chinese date – they’ll often just weep because it takes them back to that initial moment when they first experienced it."

3. After traveling the world in search of the most rapturous, mouth-watering fruits, Chang has decided that these strange-looking edibles are unabashedly erotic.
(laughs) "You know, it started to become a motif in the film; the people we interviewed were using sexual references in talking about them. And I do agree with a character in the movie that fruits aren’t shy about sexuality… They know what their purpose is – they’re bred to seduce us. I feel that erotic element is very much a part of what fruits are. If you think about vegetables, for instance, like broccoli, it’s not that erotic. That’s why fruits are fruits – because they have colour, shape and represent erogenous zones of our bodies! (laughs) I had to put that in the movie; it had to get pornographic."

Bill Pullman in The Fruit Hunters

4. Chang discovered that Bill Pullman isn’t a token celebrity activist, choosing to defend a noble cause as part of a calculated PR campaign. He’s simply a nature lover with a hankering for fruit!
"What was fun about Bill’s involvement in The Fruit Hunters is that he never took on the position of an advocate for fruit. I remember a producer saying that Bill should have been a farmer instead of an actor, because it’s in his nature to be this down-to-earth, everyman character."

"Every fruit hunter travels the world hunting for rare fruit; we may never have the opportunity to do that. Bill, however, inverts the story in our own backyards. Even though he’s in Los Angeles, it doesn’t mean we can’t be fruit hunters in Montreal, for example. Bill represents this idea of creating and sustaining a community through fruit."

5. A side-effect of travelling the world tasting wildly flavourful fruit, Chang can’t bring himself to pick his favourite.
"As I found out through asking fruit hunters, all fruits can be your favourite, depending on when and where you eat a particular variety. But a few highlights for me were tasting a Burmese grape in Hawaii – it was sort of like popcorn candy, a delicious little fruit – and eating a fresh mangosteen in Borneo on a boat, which was pretty amazing. And durian really has a bad rap. It’s supposed to be a really stinky fruit, but I’ve had durian that are so flavourful and fresh that they don’t smell at all. In fact, it’s quite fragrant. An acquired taste, very complex; it’s like eating a Roquefort cheese, it’s very complex."


The Fruit Hunters
Now playing at Cineplex Odeon Forum (with English subtitles) and Cinéma Excentris (with French subtitles)
Book signing with author Adam Leith Gollner on Sunday November 25 at 5:10 p.m.
eyesteelfilm.com | cinemaexcentris.com