Seeds of Time

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"Seeds of Time stands out as truly exceptional. It's about an issue less prominent in the public dialogue but of universal's just riveting filmmaking, a story swiftly and beautifully told."

At the Mead: Trying to Save the Seeds of Time


Most seed banks aren’t glamorous but the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, set deep inside a mountain on the island of Svalbard, Norway, has achieved a kind of celebrity status both for its sleek, spy-novel-worthy, modernist design—and for the contents frozen within. Stored in this remote location high in the Arctic Circle are the seeds of numerous varieties of the world’s food plants and related wild species.

The documentary Seeds of Time gracefully reveals the man, and the ideas, behind the vault and other seed-preservation endeavors around the globe.

Elegantly shot, with a thrumming, high-lonesome soundtrack, the film follows an unnamed (for much of the start of the film—so we won’t reveal his name here) American man as he dashes from a quiet farm where he eats dinner with his two sons to meetings across Europe, and eastward to Russia and beyond.

In hushed and well-appointed conference rooms, he promotes what is clearly the unifying idea behind these movements: that crop biodiversity must be preserved in order to provide a safety net for an agricultural system beset by monoculture and grappling with the effects of climate change. Seeds banks and other measures, he argues, may be what stand between humanity and “catastrophic starvation.” Agriculture, he says at one point, faces “an unprecedented combination of challenges and threats.”

While he uses forceful language, the man is no hothead—in fact, he appears methodical, placid, organized, and intensely devoted to the goal of preserving the world’s food seeds. If the idea of gathering and freezing all these seeds doesn’t seem quixotic—and to many versed in the big ideas about climate change, it doesn’t—it is thanks in large part, the film suggests, to the rare combination of passion and implacable focus of one quiet, articulate man.

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