Published Sep 01, 2000French director Agnes Varda (Vagabond) has been making films since the 50s, and her new documentary, The Gleaners and I, is a sly innovation. It begins as an unassuming examination of the peasant practice of "gleaning" for food in the fields after a harvest. It's something that's been going on for hundreds of years, and it's a truly symbiotic system æ most farmers actually appreciate that people are going through their fields to clear them of any leftovers from their crops. It clears the way for the next season of growth, and the "gleaners" walk away with countless pounds of perfectly good (though often misshapen) potatoes. There's something truly heartening and even utopian about this quaint little agreement, and Varda's humorous documentary takes the idea to its logical conclusion. She pursues the practice of gleaning in all of its forms, including a profile of an artist who works with discarded or "found" objects, and of course, the urban dwellers who glean food out of dumpsters. Varda focuses on the dignity and resourcefulness of these varied pursuits, and she does this partially out of her own subjectivity. She too is a gleaner, using her camera to track down "discarded" moments of everyday life and imbue them with genuine value, simply because she finds personal meaning in them. When her camera focuses on a pile of old potatoes, it's just an image of garbage until she picks one of them up and takes a liking to it because it happens to be heart-shaped. Her ultimate subject turns out to be an scruffy looking young man who stalks the fruit and vegetable market after it has closed each day, picking through the produce and eating it on the spot. When she follows him and eventually questions him about his life, it turns out he's got a masters degree, and spends his time teaching immigrants to read.