There I was, just another guy standing on a long line of guys waiting to get a burrito at a Chipotle in Manhattan, when I noticed a poster for Food, Inc. placed right above the guacamole. I don’t usually think of socially-conscious docs and fast food chains as natural partners, so I looked it up when I got home. Lo and behold, the Food, Inc. filmmakers have teamed up with Chipotle, which sponsored free screenings of the doc last month in addition to advertising the film in its restaurants.

Food, IncIn a statement about the joint venture with Chipotle, Food, Inc. director Robert Kenner carefully asserts that Chipotle is a company “on the right track.” Indeed, in addition to serving fresh-tasting food, the chain’s beans are about 30% organic, which is either a laudable or laughable statistic, depending on your point of view.

It didn’t surprise me to see that the good people over at Participant Media are the producers behind Food, Inc. If there were ever a feature film corollary to POV, it would have to be Participant, which has a similar mandate: in their own words, they want to produce “ entertainment that inspires and compels social change.

Participant has produced docs such as An Inconvenient Truth and Darfur Now, and features such as Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck. This is some glitzy material, and Participant stands almost alone on that shaky divide between commercialism and social action. They incorporate social action plans with their films, but they also produced horror film called The Crazies, in which the folks in a Kansas town are overcome by insanity and death after a toxin contaminates their water supply. (The film is coming out early next year, and it’s apparently going to have a George Romero-ish social metaphor, so I’ll have to withhold judgment for the moment.)

So far, Food, Inc. has made close to $3 million at the box office, so they’ve managed to do well. And after telling the POV team that I was going to write about Food, Inc., I found further reason to admire the film’s efforts to reach a mass audience: POV has just picked up the film, and will be airing Food, Inc. in 2010. It seems that ambitious (and conscientious) minds sometimes do think alike.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen