NOTE: Here is my review from Soda & Telepaths that was posted back on October 5, 2021
Wild Relatives tells the little known story of a special vault located deep in the earth beneath the Arctic permafrost. This vault, known as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, contains seeds from all over the world where they can be kept safe in the event of a global catastrophe (one that would cause the end of certain kinds of plant life, not the global plague catastrophe we’re currently going through).
Wild Relatives follows what happens when a research centre is forced to move from Aleppo to Lebanon and needs to use some of the seeds from this vault. Throughout the 70 minute runtime, we see the process of the seed storage, transfer and its eventual use in a slow, almost meditative, journey across the globe.
Conceptually, Wild Relatives is absolutely fascinating. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is definitely not something a lot of people know about and getting a look inside it is something truly special. Seeing the process that goes into collecting, sorting and storing the seeds has a stunning amount of educational value and it’s shot so well that it even has enough visual appeal to maintain the audience’s interest when, realistically, we’re looking at walls of vacuum-sealed bags full of seeds. That shouldn’t be as interesting as it turns out to be.
It’s also fascinating seeing the more independent version of the seed vault, one that’s done with paper bags in a small building on a farm by someone trying to keep seeds for local produce. Not only do we get to learn about this storage, but they talk about why some seeds go extinct (high yield seeds being more popular for industry farming is just one example) and why it’s important to keep this seed library going as long as possible. Surprise, even something as seemingly small as “saving seeds for future generations” is heavily political and the film touches on that… at first.
Around the halfway point of Wild Relatives, it almost feels like the filmmakers decided to turn the entire thing into a mood piece instead of a full documentary. The final 10 minutes are almost silent, the story being told just kind of fizzles out. At 70 minutes there really shouldn’t be a single minute where the energy drops, that’s lean enough that it borders on being a TV episode instead of a film and yet at the end of it the film just kind of stops. Heck, it even does a weird 90s family movie ending where music plays while people dance around.
That weak ending really does hurt Wild Relatives a lot, it’s already a hard enough subject to get people interested in (Be honest, you read that it was about a vault full of seeds and went “I’m good, I have paint and a wall so I’ve got something similar to watch) so to drop the ball that hard doesn’t help. The first half of the film is genuinely great, full of interesting informative content that should be a lot more well known by a lot more people but the film itself just is kinda dull for a large amount of it.
The idea of Wild Relatives is amazing and wildly important for people to know… the execution of the documentary, on the other hand, is just kind of average at best. The first half of the movie is the really essential stuff that’s worth your time and once you’ve started it you might as well finish, but the ending is just so dull that it ends up tainting the entire viewing experience. There’s the seed of something great here, it just needed more time to grow.
Viewed as part of the FoodxFilm Festival which goes from September 26th until October 3rd