F&W's #FOODWINEWOMEN series spotlights top women in food and drink in collaboration with Toklas Society. Follow the hashtag on Twitter (@foodandwine). Here, Academy Award-nominated director Sandy McLeod discusses her upcoming documentary, Seeds of Time.
Perhaps you consider yourself well-informed on the environmental threats facing our food system—but spend a few minutes with agricultural activist Cary Fowler and you'll discover some new reasons to be alarmed. That's what happened to filmmaker Sandy McLeod. After meeting with Fowler, a man who has made it his life’s work to protect crop diversity, she realized there was a huge gap in her knowledge. She’d never thought much about seed banks—or seeds, for that matter—or how climate change might begin to impact how we eat. “I thought, my God, we really need to know about this,” she said. “We need to understand what’s happening with agriculture, because it’s going to get harder and harder to grow food.” Over the next eight years, McLeod followed Fowler around the globe documenting his efforts to prevent crop extinction—among which includes creating the world’s first global seed vault, atop an Arctic Norwegian mountain—and to increase awareness about the importance of seed banks and crop diversity. Her resulting film, Seeds of Time, hits theaters Friday, May 22. We spoke with McLeod about her path to agricultural activism, the realities of being a woman in a male-dominated industry, and the experience of trying to convince the world that seeds are a sexy subject matter.
You have a diverse film background. How did you end up making a documentary about seeds?
I first read about Fowler and his mission to protect crop diversity in a New Yorker article that friends had recommended. One morning I was sitting at breakfast reading the piece, about this guy I’d never heard of named Cary. As I was reading, my husband was on a work call with someone named Cary, and he had the phone on speaker. I got to a line in the article that said that the Gates Foundation had given Fowler $30 million, and I heard my husband ask the guy on the phone, how much did you get from the Gates Foundation? The guy said $30 million. My jaw just dropped to the table. So when my husband hung up, I asked him, was that Cary Fowler? He looked at me, dumbstruck.