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'It's exhausting to love a mango': New documentary 'The Fruit Hunters' makes mouths water

May 15, 2013|By Jessica Gelt
  • Bill Pullman poses with a pile of delicious exotic fruits, as featured in the new documentary "The Fruit Hunters" by Yung Chang.
Bill Pullman poses with a pile of delicious exotic fruits, as featured in… (EyeSteelFilm Inc. )

On Monday night a documentary called "The Fruit Hunters" premiered at the Laemmle Monica 4. The fascinating (and taste-tempting) film was directed by Yung Chang and features actor Bill Pullman, who has been cultivating a vertical orchard at his home in the Hollywood Hills for nearly 20 years.

Also featured is a colorful cast of fruit lovers from around the world, including picturesque places like Italy, Borneo and Hawaii. The protagonists are growers, horticulturists and enthusiasts and they are beyond obsessed with every single aspect of rare fruit.

The fruit in the film is photographed with a ripe sensuality -- a joyful sexuality, if you will.

"Is it strange that when I look at certain fruits, I find myself a bit aroused?" asks the narrator at the beginning of the movie as the camera lovingly scans the round, juicy, often dripping varieties of fruit, many of which a typical Western consumer has never seen.

Rambutan, jackfruit, star fruit, mangosteen, cherimoya, pepinos, finger limes and more are the real stars of this film, with the humans who adore them serving as proof of their exotic power.

"Maybe it's because our relationship with fruit helped us to become human in the first place," speculates the narrator.

The idea that fruit holds the key to much of the history of life and the evolution of humanity is hit upon often. And the desire for a modern-day Garden of Eden seems to drive many of the fruit lovers, including Pullman, whose crusade to create a community orchard on a hillside in his neighborhood is documented.

The owners of the land he'd like to obtain for the orchard won't sell it, so he coordinates a pop-up kitchen in a cul-de-sac and recruits a collective that gathers and preserves wild fruit in the area. The project is called Hollywood Orchard and it brings fruit lovers together one Saturday per month.

Another man in the film, Richard Campbell, is captivated by mangoes. He points out that there are more than 600 types of mangos in the world.

"It's exhausting to love a mango," he sighs.

Later in the film we are whisked to Borneo and told that it has more exotic fruit per square inch than anywhere else in the world. Here we are introduced to an elder of one of the last remaining nomadic tribes in Borneo, called the Penan.

Watching the wizened but lithe man search the forest for fruit is among the film's most lasting images. (As is one of him in a Jeep, being driven through a heavily logged forest. When lumber is worth more than fruit, the fruit disappears, we are told.)

"This is not a fruit you laugh at," he says somberly in his native dialect of a small fruit he plucks from a tree, adding that it will poison and kill you if you don't eat it with respect.

After the film, Pullman took questions from the audience alongside Steven Spangler, who owns an orchard called Exotica in Vista, and Alex Silber, who runs Papaya Tree Nursery in Granada Hills.

Asked what his favorite fruit is, Pullman replied with the diplomacy of a seasoned showman, "Some of those fruits are going to hate me if I don't mention their names!"

Clip: "The Fruit Hunters"

"The Fruit Hunters," opens Thursday at a variety of Los Angeles-area theaters including Laemmle Claremont, Laemmle Monica and Laemmle Noho.

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