War on Milk

During the eight years Declan O’Driscoll lived in Nelson, his Yggdrasil theatre company toured West Kootenay with plays based on the mythology of the Valhalla mountains and classics such as The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Former Nelson resident Declan O’Driscoll returns to the  West Kootenay with his new film

Former Nelson resident Declan O’Driscoll returns to the West Kootenay with his new film

During the eight years Declan O’Driscoll lived in Nelson, his Yggdrasil theatre company toured West Kootenay with plays based on the mythology of the Valhalla mountains and classics such as The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.

But when O’Driscoll returns to the city February 11, he’ll be showcasing a work that’s all about contemporary concerns.

On November 21, 2006, 20 armed officers stormed a small dairy farm north of Toronto and arrested owner Michael Schmidt (seen in photo above). His crime? Selling unpasteurized, “raw” milk.

O’Driscoll was on the scene within a day, shooting what would eventually become the documentary film Milk War, which kicks off this year’s Canadian FLIKS Festival.

“My mother actually got milk from him for years, so she told me that he was just arrested and his farm was raided,” explains O’Driscoll. “So I just picked up the camera and started shooting.”

Selling unpasteurized milk has been illegal in Ontario since 1938, when about 800 people fell ill after drinking milk from cows with tuberculosis. Since 1991 it’s been federal law as well.

But as O’Driscoll followed Schmidt’s four-year court case he began to see how raw-milk laws were, as he puts it, “catering to the lowest common denominator.”

While he’s not sure he’d want to buy unpasteurized milk at a supermarket, he points out that none of Schmidt’s customers ever got sick because of his milk in the farm’s 20 years of operation. And he’s sympathetic to Schmidt’s belief that his customers should be allowed to eat what they want, even if there are risks involved.

“It raises some serious questions about where government might be overstepping the rights of people,” he says.

“People that can make a conscious and well-informed decision aren’t allowed to do so.”

Schmidt was eventually acquitted of all charges — but not before staging a 28-day hunger strike, dumping his high-profile legal advisor and taking on a pack of lawyers for the provincial government singlehandedly.

Since the verdict last year, the raw milk debate has reared its head in B.C., and it’s bringing O’Driscoll with it.

Before heading to the FLIKS festival, he’ll screen Milk War in Vancouver in support of Chiliwack’s Home on the Range Farms, which is facing similar legal troubles.

The man in charge of the farm’s case? None other than Michael Schmidt.

Milk War is the first of six Canadian films screening at the Capitol Theatre February 11 and 12. The film begins at 7 p.m., and is followed by a question and answer session with O’Driscoll and Kootenay Co-Op radio’s Jon Steinman, host of Deconstructing Dinner.

Admission is $10, with a full festival pass available for $30. Tickets are available in advance from Otter Books. For more information and a full schedule of films, visit flicks.ca/festivals_canadian.html.