Coral Gables

Documentary zooms in on globe-trotting fruit hunters

 

Special to the Miami Herald

Some people look at fruit as a snack; others look at it as a way of life.

Those people want to know the history behind the fruit and experience the culture behind it. They grow it, eat it and engulf themselves in it.

They are the focus of the documentary film The Fruit Hunters, directed by Yung Chang, who also worked as the screenwriter on the documentary project.

The documentary made its South Florida premiere at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables on Friday—eve of the annual International Mango Festival at Fairchild.

“It’s been quite an epic saga,” Chang said about the documentary, which he has been working on for about five years. “As the filmmaker, part of the joy was to travel and see the world through the prism of a fruit hunter, which is about tasting and culture.”

The movie showed Friday evening in a private screening, following an afternoon media viewing and exotic tasting with fruit from around the world.

The documentary stars actor Bill Pullman, who is known for his roles in Independence Day and While You Were Sleeping. In the documentary he is seen organizing a community orchard in Hollywood.

“I have friends who are into growing fruit in their orchards and I was a little protective of them,” Pullman said. He confessed to having reservations when he agreed to appear in the documentary, worried that his friends who grow fruit would come off as eccentric or be misrepresented.

That wasn’t the case.

The documentary focuses on the passion people have for fruit all over the world, and their desire to educate themselves and others about it.

"When you have knowledge you see things more than you saw before," Pullman said.

Viewers follow fruit hunters Noris Ledesma, a curator of tropical fruit at Fairchild, and Richard Campbell, director of horticulture and senior curator of tropical fruit at Fairchild, on their mission to find the wani—a white mango—in Bali.

They learn about local fruit and fruit culture by talking to locals in farmers markets and explore the jungle in their quest for the rare mango.

“As a fruit collector I think you have this in your blood,” Ledesma said. “You are hunting for something so specific. You are kind of setting on an expedition.”

Others followed in the documentary are Juan Aguilar, a scientist who is racing to breed fungus-resistant bananas, and food detective Isabella Dalla Ragione on her mission to find rare fruit.

Of course hunting for fruit, like anything else, isn’t always easy.

Fruit can hang too high to pick sometimes and require climbing and traveling throughout the year to find it when it is ripe. It can be a lot of hurry and wait.

But it’s worth it for the moment that they find the prize.

Ledesma is a mango fan and finds the fruit special among all others. She said she sees people come to Fairchild during the mango festival and be taken back to their childhoods with the smell and taste of a mango.

“People from Latin America and the Caribbean come to this country and they’re missing something they left behind in their country,” Ledesma said. “They go back through their memories through mangos.”

Throughout the documentary viewers are shown the passion fruit hunters have for their craft and learn the history of certain fruits, some of which have caused wars and even toppled empires throughout history.

“We are all fruit hunters in our own right,” Chang said. “There is that element of unknown. We were following people's stories and the outcome isn’t always what you think. That’s the pleasure of it, and that's something I like about documentary filmmaking.”

The Fruit Hunters isn’t playing in all theaters, but people can see showing cities via www.facebook.com/fruithunters.

Pullman has a warning for those who see the movie: be near a fruit supply.

“Just put a clock on them and see how long it takes for them to leave their chair and get some fruit,” he said.

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