Austin Film Festival Review: An Acquired Taste

Locavore youth documentary debut aims to please

The desperately fine line between socially conscious eco-documentary and gun-owner propaganda gets walked with finesse in Vanessa Lemaire’s directorial debut, An Acquired Taste.

Ostensibly a family film about teenagers learning to hunt in the wilds of North America, Lemaire turns their experiences into a cinematic testing ground for those curious about locavorism, ethical diets, and marksmanship. That this brief feature ultimately becomes an educated advertisement for the firearms industry ensures a long tenure on the national screening circuit, the best evidence to this being its energetic premiere Saturday at the Austin Film Festival.

Lemaire – who began shooting, writing, producing, and directing her debut in 2011 – follows three subjects: the self-confident, quiet Nick, who feels compelled to connect with his food; phobia-ridden Alex; and Ashlie, whose father believes hunting will cut through her reserve. By chance, these young people are thrown together on an expedition organized by the U.S. government for aspiring huntspeople. Lemaire interviews them and their families over months as they are mentored (the boys by a Bear Grylls-like guru, Ashlie by a nonprofessional wildlife educator) in rifle-loading, squirrel-skinning, and all manner of respectful inter-forest behavior.

As the children grow older in front of us – one of the film’s most powerful elements, since the difference between a thirteen-year-old and a fifteen-year-old with a gun is so severe – they become adept killers. The camera, like its subjects, is restless, constantly chasing and shaking around in anticipation of a big game sighting. But with aptitude does not necessarily comfort come, and in Lemaire’s sharp editing, we see how these impressionable and curious young people decide for or against slaying and consuming game in the wild. In a few choice moments, we even witness the aftershocks of first kills on Ashlie, Nick, and Alex.

To say who among the central characters most revels in shooting a boar versus who is repulsed by it would be to hijack the growth of the narrative that Lemaire tracks. Certainly, within this documentary is a crash course in safe gun maintenance and ownership, including the molding of personal ammunition, that will unsettle those hoping to keep their children disinterested in weaponry. There is little doubt that An Acquired Taste will appeal far less to cinephiles (its sound and visual quality are tasteful, but basic) than to either NRA supporters or urban-housed locavore families. One wonders how these two social groups will respond to the other’s likely support for Lemaire’s debut.

An Acquired Taste screens again Tuesday, Oct. 18, 1pm, Alamo Village.

The Austin Film Festival runs Thu., Oct. 13, through Thu., Oct. 20. See for schedule and info. Follow our continuing coverage of the fest at www.austinchronicle/austin-film-festival.

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Austin Film Festival 2016, Austin Film Festival, AFF, An Acquired Taste

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