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Replay: appetite, genes and drugs

19 Aug, 2011

It’s amazing the difference a little humanity can add to a science film.

When asked to make a short film about the genetics of appetite, the first thing I did was think of food. How could I possibly make a film about our desire to eat without featuring colourful, juicy, delicious food. The challenge was to somehow marry such imagery with a Wellcome Trust film.

The scientists, Professors Stephen O’Rahilly and Stephen Bloom and Dr Sadaf Farooqi were all in place and happy to be interviewed, which is a great start, but I really wanted this film to feel different from the usual ‘scientists in a lab’ film. And so I became acquainted with the Trust’s kitchen staff. In the basement of the Trust building are a team of men and women feverishly slicing, frying, baking and savouring the task of creating food to feed more than 500 people every day – what better place to start.

Next day, crack of dawn, I filmed the process that happens here five days a week, from food delivery (to the kitchen) to food delivery (to our mouths). It’s impossible not to appreciate the immense amount of work that goes into such large-scale food preparation and it was here it occurred to me to ask a simple question, one that would permeate the entire film: what’s your favourite food?

The beauty of such questions is that everybody has an answer we can all relate too, agree with or disagree – irrespective of whether it’s being answered by a soux chef or a professor of genetics. It levels the human playing field.

In this film I also wanted to avoid the usual stereotypes of ‘person talks about obesity’, cut to a slow motion sea of wobbly bellies marching down Tottenham Court Road. Hackneyed. So here, I attempted to use the food itself as the symbol of good (fruit) or poor (mayonnaise) health. While the occasional juxtaposition of food preparation with lab experiments helped bridge the work going on in laboratories with the reality of our lifestyles.

Ultimately, Stephen gave the best answer to the question – not because it was clever but because, for a moment, he stopped being an eminent scientist and transformed into a loving husband. Hopefully, the film gives people a sense of both.

Watch more of our films on our YouTube channel.

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