When asked for his take on the legacy of That Sugar Film, actor turned documentary filmmaker Damon Gameau pauses for a moment, laughs mischievously and then offers, “It certainly affected my ability to have chocolate in public, which is probably a little frustrating.”
One of Australia’s most successful docos, it unveiled the secret world of hidden sugar lurking innocuously in our foods, nudging audiences towards better eating by revealing the effects of a sugar-rich diet on Gameau and roping in celebrity guests like Hugh Jackman and Stephen Fry to deliver the science bits in an eminently palatable fashion.
Screening on SBS this weekend, Gameau gets serious when he says, “There’s a bit of health crisis going on and sometimes scientist can struggle with communicating to the public. That’s where documentaries or art in general can play a role in disseminating some of those messages and making them more accessible to the public, speaking in a language that more people can understand.”
Watch 'That Sugar Film'
SBS Australia, Sunday 26 May, 8.30pm
Available after broadcast at SBS On Demand
The feedback from appreciative audiences has been humbling, Gameau says, including from fellow fathers who stop him in pubs and thank him for empowering them to make better choices about their diets.
He’s put his money where his mouth is too. First witnessing the effect of poor diets in remote Indigenous communities during filming of Rolf de Heer’s The Tracker, Gameau explores this angle in That Sugar Film. He subsequently set up the Mai Wiru [good health] Sugar Challenge Foundation in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, helping stores to stock healthy options and offer nutritional advice.
“The frustrating thing is that it’s seemingly quite a simple fix in the sense that we know what’s going on out there, people aren’t eating enough of the right foods, and there’s a way we can turn that around quite quickly,” Gameau says. “Then we’ll see significant changes to people’s health and to Medicare costs. That applies to the general population too.”
Gameau’s proud of the contribution That Sugar Film has made to the conversation and he’s[at the time of writing] ten months into production of a new doco called 2040, ostensibly set in that year and looking back at the positive changes made by mankind to achieve a more sustainable and equitable planet.
“It’s looking at all the terrific solutions around the world at the moment and showing what it would look like if we shifted them into the mainstream,” Gameau says. “We’re trying to hold up a much more positive vision of the future than the dystopian narrative we’re being fed now. There are alternatives and the public should be excited about those.”
Visiting around 15-20 countries, Gameau’s particularly interested in the developing world. “They’re having to deal with our excess and respond very quickly to the changes in the world, and we’re really trying to highlight what they’re doing.”
Expect a similarly irreverent approach with celebrity friends along for the ride, Gameau says. “A lot of these films can feel a little bit dire, but there’s no reason why you can’t have fun telling pretty serious stories, so using celebrities to explain quite complex science can be really interesting. It’s a great challenge to think up fun sketches for them and they really enjoy contributing in that way.”
Though he recently appeared in The Kettering Incident, Gameau is smitten with filmmaking, having finally found his own voice, and would prefer to follow this endeavour over taking on more acting roles.
"There was a yearning in me to have the courage to tell my story. Once I actually found something I could really sink my teeth into, I really went for it."
“I guess I was always a frustrated actor in that sense,” he acknowledges. “I enjoyed certain jobs and the process but there was a yearning in me to have the courage to tell my story. Once I actually found something I could really sink my teeth into, I really went for it.”
Gameau picked up a lot of skills watching and learning from directors he’s proud to have collaborated with. “I feel very lucky I was able to work with awesome directors along the way, whether it be Rolf de Heer or Rob Connolly, who were instrumental in teaching me about how to tell a story, how to communicate and work with actors, and how to put a shape to narrative.”
Life doesn’t leave much room for acting anymore, truth be told. “Time is very precious these days,” Gameau levels. “When I’m juggling the new film, the old film and a toddler, it’s very hard to squeeze anything else in.”
Follow the author here: @SARussellwords