4100 Redwood Rd #406
Oakland, CA 94619


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Health: Nutrition/Malnutrition
Human Development: Agriculture, Children, Education, Food, Youth
Politics: Activism

Project Geography

US: California

Identity Niches

Children, Student, Women, Youth/Teen


Raised to date: $37,500.00
Estimate to complete: $74,500.00
Total Estimated Budget: $112,000.00
The budget numbers above are accurate as of 11/03/2009



Media Type


Project End Use


Key Personnel

Helen De Michiel
Producer, director, writer
Helen De Michiel is a director, writer and producer of documentary and narrative films, and a site-specific media installation artist. She has produced programming for public television, taught media practices, and writes regularly about issues in the media arts field.  Her work is included in several museums around the country. She is the Co-Director of National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture, and served on the board of The George F. Peabody Awards for Electronic Media. Her most recent film, The Gender Chip Project www.genderchip.org explores young women in technology and science fields, and is distributed by Women Make Movies. 

Outreach/Engagement Plan(s)

Director Helen De Michiel’s last documentary, THE GENDER CHIP PROJECT, which was funded in part by both the Wexner Center for the Arts and the National Science Foundation, and in distribution with Women Make Movies, is now being used by professional organizations, middle schools, high schools and universities in an innovative public engagement effort to bring and retain women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.  The GENDER CHIP PROJECT team developed a successful model of using film to build awareness of the issue, stimulate dialogue across a diverse cross section of audiences and partner organizations, and offer next steps to change habits, attitudes and policies.  
In order to achieve the kind of impact that will ignite people to reconsider their food choices and act to change deep-seated school institutional behaviors, the OPEN MINDS OPEN MOUTHS team is inviting educational, nonprofit and philanthropic partners to participate as advisors and collaborators while the film is being created -- in the production phase.  This strategy will set the stage to build a network of ‘stakeholders’ who both will be ready to use the film in their own field work, and to help make it work successfully for a variety of audiences.
By connecting to the production process with feedback, information and expertise, our partners will help us lay the foundation for the important outreach and public engagement component necessary to ensure that the film will reach its intended audiences: from school and community meeting rooms to broadcast and the web.
In collaboration with outreach campaign specialists at Working Films, we are developing a phased approach to an outreach and engagement strategy: first, early on as production takes place; then, at the editorial stage when the film is being assembled, and finally, when the film is released through online networks, to screening events and broadcast.
Because Chef Ann Cooper plays a top role in the film, we will offer it to Women Make Movies (DeMichiel’s longtime distributor) for a “first look” for distribution.  We intend to focus distribution efforts both in national and international broadcast venues; then non-theatrically to school advocates, nonprofits working in food, environmental, and sustainability issues, parent groups, community food activists, administrators and policy makers. The funding partners who work with Chef Ann (in her newly created F3 Foundation) and locally with the Berkeley School Lunch Initiative (Chez Panisse Foundation, Center for Weight and Health at UC Berkeley, Center for EcoLiteracy) will help us “build the echo” and launch the dissemination and public engagement campaign.


Berkeley Film Foundation$7,000.0006/15/2009
San Francisco Foundation$22,500.0012/15/2008
Individual donors$8,000.0009/15/2008


1602 Marin Avenue
Berkeley, CA, 94707

Short Synopsis

OPEN MINDS OPEN MOUTHS is a one-hour documentary project that presents a multifacted story of a determined community of cooks, educators, parents, health advocates and food purveyors in Berkeley, California who are creating the replicable School Lunch Initiative and changing how our children eat.


It is 6:00am at Martin Luther King School’s Central Kitchen and Dining Commons.  Chef Ann Cooper, in her white uniform and tethered to a Blackberry, stands over a bubbling four-foot tall vat of freshly pureed spaghetti sauce, stirring with an enormous wooden paddle.  Executive Chef Bonnie Christensen stands next to her, on her phone talking to the satellite kitchen supervisor who oversees today’s hot lunch service at Rosa Parks School -- spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce, garlic bread and sautéed mixed vegetables. Food service delivery trucks are already lining up to take buckets of freshly prepared meal items to each of the fifteen schools in Berkeley.
Chef Ann stops to take a call. She finishes stirring, checks the storeroom and disappears into a corner of the school auditorium to deal with a vendor issue.  On today’s calendar she has three appointments, a lunchtime tour, two afternoon meetings, and a speech to give that evening.  But for right now, the spaghetti sauce has to be cooked, seasoned, measured and transferred to the schools’ satellite kitchens before 8am.
Ann Cooper is the Director of Nutritional Services for the Berkeley Unified School District, author of several books (her latest, Lunch Lessons) and tireless, nationally recognized reformer to help children change their eating habits and move towards healthier, minimally processed-food diets. Persuasive and persistent, she has become a key figure in the movement to eliminate childhood obesity and change our dietary habits.
OPEN MINDS OPEN MOUTHS, a one-hour non-fiction film and inclusive online social media strategy produced and directed by Helen De Michiel, presents a story of how a determined community of parents, cooks, administrators, teachers, community activists, public health advocates and local food purveyors in Berkeley have come together as The School Lunch Initiative (SLI) to support healthy local food and change how our children eat. The documentary looks at how this highly diverse urban community (where over 50% of Berkeley children qualify for federally-funded low-income school lunch assistance funds) has collaborated within a web of intricate social, funding, and political relationships to build an infrastructure where children are no longer offered donuts and sugary cereal for breakfast, nor micro-waved chicken nuggets, pizza pockets and frozen burritos for lunch.
After only three years of having their food program reinvented step by step, the children of the Berkeley Unified School District -- from kindergarten through high school-- are walking through a lunch line where they are hand-served a hot entrée cooked from scratch, are encouraged to create a custom salad from a bar featuring greens locally cultivated, and are allowed to take all the organic milk they can drink.
Chef Cooper has a staff of 90 workers who prepare and serve 5,000 hot meals for school breakfast and lunch every day. They range from professionally trained and experienced restaurant chefs who manage the systemic pieces of the food operation to entry level workers at each of the schools. She also oversees the BUSD Network Program-- created more than twelve years ago to introduce a now widely acclaimed cooking and gardening curriculum into the elementary and middle schools.
OPEN MINDS OPEN MOUTHS chronicles the process it takes to transform a “wouldn’t that be great” vision into everyday operational reality: from physically demanding, labor-intensive kitchen work to designing and building new cooking facilities; from recipe development to community and staff meetings, to friendly outreach and dialogue with parents and students. The film, and accompanying online materials, will offer glimpses into an American educational future where children are learning how healthy, local and organic food, caringly presented, opens up their quality of life, health and thinking.
How it gets there is not easy or smooth. But that this local Bay Area model is succeeding offers enormous implications for our region and our country. Evaluators are investigating how this program is a contributing factor in children’s educational success; and since staff and advocates believe in its flexibility and replicability, they are developing a toolkit for use by other communities --both in the Bay Area climate zone and beyond.

As children learn more about gardening outdoors and cooking in the kitchen, they also learn about the natural world, ecology and farming, and other cultures as approached through food. These experiences in the classrooms among peers encourage children to experiment with and enjoy new kinds of food, understand where their meals comes from, and connect what they eat to their health and the world they live in.
OPEN MINDS OPEN MOUTHS will weave together these webs of connections -- both social and institutional-- that makes up a project of this scope and ambition. It explores questions like: How did the Berkeley School Lunch Initiative  find a structure that works?  How has Chef Cooper and her staff taken the school district -- in three years -- from highly processed packaged food to hot “from scratch” meals? How are kitchen staff, teachers, parents and community members responding to the program? What are the issues around replicability, out from the Bay Area and beyoond to the rest of the country.

The facts cannot be disputed: we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic and public health crisis that is affecting youngsters across the country.  45% of 7 year-olds today will be diabetic by the time they reach puberty. $20 billion is spent every year marketing junk food to children.  More than 2.5 million children are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and researchers are concerned about ADHD triggers coming from food dyes and additives. Children’s health is being compromised -- and it increasingly shows up in early puberty onset, lower semen counts, early insulin-dependency and behavioral problems.
Food can make us sick; and food can make us healthy.
Well-fed and well-nourished children perform better in school. A steady stream of parents, teachers, administrators, policy advocates and interested community food activists from around the Bay Area, the state and across the country, contact Marni Posey, who supervises field operations for the Nutrition Services Department in the BUSD wanting to know how they can use the Berkeley model. “One of my jobs,” she says,  “is to figure out how we can document and replicate the model to make it work for districts that lack the resources that we have here.”
OPEN MINDS OPEN MOUTHS taps into this growing public interest in sustainable food practices and choices. As oil and grocery prices rise, cheap abundant food is rapidly becoming a relic of the past.  The SLI is proving it is possible to teach children how to eat well and notice where their meals come from, while weaving in the deep cultural significance this process has for all of us.  The work that Ann Cooper and her team is doing no longer lives at the fringes of society, but is quickly shifting to center stage. This documentary project will help move the debate about these issues into organizations, churches, parent associations, school districts; and into the offices of funders, policymakers and politicians.

OPEN MINDS OPEN MOUTHS will create a space for ongoing dialogue among stakeholders, and accomplish what documentaries do best: offer a coherent and beautifully-crafted story to raise consciousness and awareness that, in spite of often seemingly insurmountable obstacles, different approaches are imaginable and doable. De Michiel crafts her nonfiction films so that viewers can be both immersed in the visual storytelling and feel free to roam an emotional landscape where it is possible to actively engage with the ideas and relationships being revealed.  She has developed and written about her community-based documentary practice over the last 18 years, specifically in films like TURN HERE SWEET CORN (1990), THE LISTENING PROJECT (1994), PAYING ATTENTION (2003) and THE GENDER CHIP PROJECT (2006).
Accompanying OPEN MINDS OPEN MOUTHS, the production team will produce an online media strategy – a dynamic website and social networking space where short, episodic pieces built from already-captured documentary material will be offered free for streaming or download. These 3-4 minute mini-docs, conceived specifically for an internet platform, will focus on one particular area of the story: an interview, a look at the kitchen system, food education in the classroom, etc. that may not have been covered in depth in the larger documentary.  These freely distributed episodes will also serve us to build community and a “fan-base” as the film is being produced, and be embedded with resources for community members, nonprofits, educators and food policy advocates to take action.

Click here to ask for more information about this project: