The feature-length movie adaptation of writer Adam Gollner’s award-winning book Fruit Hunters: A Story of Nature, Adventure Commerce and Obsession hits Canadian theatres in November. We rang up Gollner and the documentary’s director, Yung Chang (Up the Yangtze) to chat about fruit hunting, the making of the film and the enRoute connection.
What made you want to hunt for exotic fruit?
Adam Gollner: The idea began on a trip to Brazil in 1999. I couldn’t believe the diversity of fruit they have there – things like ameixa, cupuaçu, graviola, taperebá and umbu – and I wondered why we can’t find these types of fruit here in Canada.
How did enRoute come into the picture?
AG: In 2002, I pitched a story about fruit tourism to Mireille Silcoff, a then-editor at enRoute. I brought her a dragon fruit and suggested we do a story about fruits in Borneo. Her reply: “We are not sending you to Malaysia!” Instead, they sent me to Hawaii, where I met a tropical fruit grower named Ken Love, who is featured in the film, the book and the article. He’s what you might call a fruit connoisseur, and he turned me on to some crazy rare fruits, including the then-unheard-of miracle fruit [a West African berry that can be used as a sugar substitute]. Who knew it would end up in The New York Times and on The Dr. Oz Show?
At what point did you realize that your story had the makings of a book?
AG: I suspected it was more than just a story as soon as I got home from Brazil and couldn’t buy any Amazonian fruits in Montreal, where I live. The narrative solidified when I started learning about the characters involved in the fruit underworld, like the Fruit Detective, Graftin’ Crafton Clift, members of the Rare Fruit Council International and NAFEX (North American Fruit Explorers). These passionate fruit lovers are working on preserving biodiversity in the world’s most remote corners. My experience writing the article for enRoute showed me that hunting fruits is a way of learning more about the connections between humans and nature: We’re in it together.
When did the idea of a film come about?
AG: Yung and I are good friends, and the idea came to him when we were both finishing up our first big projects: him editing Up the Yangtze and me editing The Fruit Hunters manuscript.
Yung Chang: I knew I had the beginnings of a film when I tried a mangosteen [a tropical fruit that is both tangy and sweet] while travelling in Brazil.
How were you involved with the filming process?
AG: Very minimally. At the beginning, I helped in brainstorming sessions, introduced Yung to the fruit hunters and answered any questions before the crew went on location. I brought them weird, delicious fruits from the market and lent them books – that sort of thing. The film is its own story.
What was it like to go on a fruit hunt?
YC: It’s a sort of mission. It’s a lot of fun to go traipsing through a jungle with a machete and potentially discover something new, but I ultimately found out that there are unbelievable things going on, surrounding these seemingly mundane objects. The banana, for example, is under threat of extinction because of a fungal disease. In 10 years, we may never eat a banana again. That stuck with me.
What were some of the challenges in making this film?
YC: The biggest challenge was the topic of fruit itself. It’s a sprawling subject. I had to find a way tell it in microcosm. There’s the doc element, where we hone in on the characters that show us this underworld of fruit; then there are the historical and cultural facets, which were also fascinating. Take the naming of fruits: the McIntosh apple, the Bing cherry, the clementine – all of them are connected to the person who first cultivated them. I was inspired to tell those little vignettes.
What do you hope people take away from the film?
YC: We didn’t get to delve into detail about each fruit, but I hope that the film can be a primer for people to go explore the wide world of fruit. My wish is that they’ll walk out of the theatre, head over to Chinatown, pick up a durian and give it a shot.
The Fruit Hunters will be released in Montreal and Toronto on November 23, in Vancouver on November 30 and in Quebec City on December 7.
Read Adam Gollner's original article on fruit tourism, published in 2003.