So much food is being wasted around the world that, in a bizarre alternate reality, people could probably use it to decorate their houses, or as tools, or even for clothes and bicycle parts. That’s the setup for “Using Great Food Badly,” a 60-second humorous commercial and public awareness campaign for City Harvest London, a charity that rescues leftover food from businesses to feed more people at local shelters.
In it, filmmakers Jack Meredith and Ato Yankey show a house that’s decorated with a bouquet of long-stemmed vegetables instead of flowers; there is also a dartboard, but with carrots stuck into it like darts, and a coat rack with hooks made out of upturned bananas. Even more bananas is the repairman using a shish kebab for a hammer, a woman sporting a dress made entirely out of lettuce leaves, and a bicyclist on a bike rolling on wheels of giant pizza. The rider wears a watermelon as a helmet.
“18.5 million tons of food is wasted every year in the U.K.,” notes a narrator in a voice over. “The question is, how can we put good food to better use?” After highlighting all the wrong ways, the film finally arrives at its answer: a delivery driver carrying more surplus food into a central kitchen, where it’s transformed into meals to feed the hungry.
The short film is funny, memorable, and best of all free for City Harvest to use however it wants. That’s because it’s one of six winners just announced in this year’s ADCAN awards, an advertising competition that aims to use creativity as a force for good by enlisting rising filmmakers to create pro bono films for charities, which are then judged by top processionals at major creative agencies and film studios. By competing, emerging artists receive the chance to get noticed by their peers. At the same time, winning entries are deeded to groups that otherwise might not have the budgets to produce them, allowing their messages to reach more people.
“The model kind of works a little bit like a symbiotic organism,” says ADCAN cofounder Brydon Gerus, who notes that while each party may benefit from participating, their combined efforts should lift up society as a whole.
The annual contest started in the United Kingdom in 2014, but expanded globally this year. To ensure participation from contestants from all over the world, it picked six cause areas that seem particularly important (and perhaps underserved) at this current moment on history: the environment, LGBT rights, the refugee crisis, gender equality, mental health, and health and well-being. It matched each cause area with a prominent charity in need of better advertising (and most are, as marketing budgets can get lumped into unfairly restricted overhead costs).
To ensure filmmakers from all over the world would be inspired to apply, they ensured that the groups were fairly geographically distributed, both in location and service areas. Three are based in Europe, while another three are based in the United States. That includes Grid Alternatives, a group that provides free solar panels to low-income homes; WERK for Peace, which uses dance as a form of activism and was set up after the Pulse Nightclub shootings; the Helen Bamber Foundation, which works with survivors of torture and extreme cruelty; the Fawcett Society, which works to encourage greater equality in government, the workplace, and online; the National Eating Disorders Association for increased awareness and early intervention; and City Harvest London, for its work in health and well being.
Ultimately, ADCAN drew 82 entries, which were judged according to both the ideas originality and execution. The top three entrants in each category were shortlisted and flown out to Los Angeles to be honored this month and receive what Gerus considers the true prize: a two-day boot camp with various industry executives associated with the contest.
That includes meeting with executives from well regarded film and creative agencies including Anonymous Content, Chromista, Hungry Man, Park Pictures, Psyop, and Rattling Stick, along with touring some of their headquarters and visiting The Mill, a Hollywood design, color, and finishing lab. All of the finalists will also learn more about production design, sound design, and camera technology from other tutorials with industry partners.
As “Using Great Food Badly” shows, many of this year’s contenders brought a new sensibility to what exactly modern-cause marketing might look like. “The trend is really to kind of move away from what you would traditionally think of as advertising or film about charity,” adds Gerus. One big theme among many entries was the use of humor as a way to broach heavy topics more creatively.
The two runner-ups in that category even used a similar approach. In one, people wearing fruit and vegetable costumes commiserate while wandering around a dump; they’ve been thrown out simply because they had blemishes that made them look sort of ugly.
Another features a lots of shots of delicious meals being delicately plated and drizzled with various sauces while seductive music plays in the background. When the music suddenly switches to a house beat, most of that food is just thrown out, uneaten, in an almost celebratory fashion, an absurd yet not inaccurate reflection on our own wasteful habits.
As Gerus puts it: “Doing pieces around awareness doesn’t need to be serious heavy and sad. It can be uplifting, empowering, and action-inspired.” You can see the category winners below.
The Environment: Grid Alternatives
“Señor Sol” by Adri Lodolo and Camilo Barria in Miami, Florida
LGBT Rights: WERK for Peace
“We Are Here and We Will Dance” by Rio Davey and Rowan Fitzgerald in London.
Refugee Rights: Helen Bamber Foundation
“Such a Loser” by Aoife McCleary and Daniel Pattison in London.
Gender Equality: Fawcett Society
“Equal Pay 88” by Peter Jones and Kunyalala Ndlovu in London.
Mental Health: National Eating Disorder Association
“When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny” by Abby Thompson and Blythe Baird in Minneapolis, Minnesota.