• Documentary filmmaker Damon Gameau in That Sugar Film (Madman/That Sugar Film)Source: Madman/That Sugar Film
That Sugar Film helped put sugar on the national health agenda, but filmmaker Damon Gameau says some of its key messages have been misinterpreted.
Alyssa Braithwaite

30 Mar 2017 - 2:47 PM  UPDATED 27 Feb 2018 - 6:31 PM

In the two years since the documentary That Sugar Film was released in Australian cinemas, sugar has gone from being considered a somewhat "faddish" concern to being very much on the health agenda globally.

But while filmmaker Damon Gameau is thrilled with the impact the movie has had - it's one of the highest grossing Australian documentaries of all time - he feels some of the points he was trying to make have been misinterpreted along the way. 

"Some people have probably taken it slightly wrong and demonised sugar a little bit," Gameau tells SBS.

"A little bit of sugar here and there is not going to cause a problem at all."

Gameau says the message of the film was always intended to be that people should be aware of how much sugar they consume each day without realising it.

"I think if you actually sit down and watch the film you realise it's really about showing people where sugar is hidden, so that you can then decide how much you're going to have," Gameau explains.

"Most people are oblivious, and they're having all these foods thinking they're doing the right thing, and then they might have some chocolate or a treat at the end of the day, and [they] think 'that's good, that's my bit of sugar for the day'. My hope is that the film has shown people that that isn't the only sugar you have in the day. And you can still have that treat if you want to, but make sure you're not having so much throughout the day in other foods - because that high amount is what's doing the damage.

"We were trying to say, just be aware, learn to read a label and empower yourselves, take charge of your food again instead of just believing the myriad of misleading messages that are often put out there by the food industry and various PR and marketing stunts."

The actor-turned-filmmaker says if he could go back in time and change anything in That Sugar Film it would be making the advice about fruit clearer. 

"That's probably the question that people ask the most - 'what about fruit?'" he says.

"I think maybe I could have, in hindsight, gone into more detail in explaining the difference between fruit and added sugar - let's not start demonising fruit, especially for kids. That's part of a healthy, balanced diet.

"I probably thought people would get the fruit message better than they did. I could have given an extra two minutes to explain that a bit."

That aside, the 41-year-old, who put his body on the line and ate 40 teaspoons of sugar a day during the making of the film, says he has been pleased to see science validate so much of the findings in the film.

But he's not about to claim credit for putting sugar so high up on the national agenda.

"We just feel happy to have capitalised on a time or a moment a zeitgeist where there was a bit more awareness around it and so, as with anything, there's a tipping point, and it's a perfect amalgam of a lot of things," he says.

"Whether it's scientists, or public figures, bloggers or even mum at the school - whatever it is, everything sort of culminated at the same time and certainly we were part of that.

"Probably the most heartening thing is the amount of kids that come up to me or approached me who just really loved the film. That's great, because that was kind of what it was made for, and the fact that it's reached them is really terrific."

Gameau and his wife Zoe Tuckwell-Smith are parents to three year old daughter Velvet, who they have brought up on a largely sugar-free diet.

But they are not going to be too extreme in their efforts to make her eat healthily.

"Because of the way we raised her, a treat for her is sometimes blueberries or if it is chocolate, it's a pretty dark chocolate or it's not really the standard ones that I grew up on," he says. "We were at a party last year and she put a marshmallow in her mouth and couldn't finish it and she spat it out. It was just too sweet.

"So that's easy right now when we can still control it a little bit, but we're just entering the daycare and preschool phase, so she's going to be exposed to kids parties and all sorts of things, and we'll have that challenge to confront when we get there.

"But I certainly think there is a better awareness now publicly and even at schools, people are starting to make noise if there's excess sugar at the schools and what not, so I think that's a good thing. I think there's more of a societal shift there which allows parenting for anyone to be a bit simpler."

Next up, Gameau is working on a "very high concept" film called 2040, about the future of the planet.

"It's a documentary that's set in 2040 and it looks back to now, and maps out a blueprint of how we got to a more sustainable and equitable planet," he says.

"We're kind of focusing on this narrative that says 'we're all pretty doomed' at the moment, and most futures we see are quite dystopic and they're cold and austere and blue and robotic and there's no signs of life. But we're going the other way.

"There's all these fantastic things going on, and if we actually implemented them in the next three or four years, this is what the world would look like in 2040." 

And it does involve a lot of food, too.

"Food is an enormous part of our future and how it impacts our environment, and how we're going to feed that amount of people, so there is a huge food component to the film as well," Gameau says. 

Watch The Sugar Film here or via SBS ON Demand:

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