Vegetarians in Paradise takes great pride in presenting its 24 Carrot Award to Lee Fulkerson and Brian Wendel for their efforts in creating the film Forks Over Knives.
Since its initial release in the spring of 2011 Forks Over Knives has brought the message that a whole-foods, plant-based lifestyle has so many health benefits, especially helping to reverse major chronic diseases. The film has been a game changer in the health of so many who have viewed it and heeded its advice.
Forks Over Knives: the Plant-Based Way to Health is a valuable companion book for people anxious to proceed with a whole-foods, plant based program. Author Gene Stone has assembled a comprehensive, easy-to-follow guidebookwith 125 recipes that will help newcomers launch themselves on the road to health improvement.
As is customary, Vegetarians in Paradise takes this opportunity to interview each award recipient to share his/her accomplishments with our readers. What follows are the questions asked by Vegetarians in Paradise (VIP) and the answers by Lee Fulkerson (LF) and Brian Wendel (BW).
VIP: What events in your life inspired you to make the film Forks Over Knives?
BW: After being interested in a plant-based lifestyle for many years, I came to the realization that a significant news story was not being told by the mainstream media. The story is that we have real evidence that a whole-food plant-based diet can prevent, and oftentimes reverse, certain degenerative diseases better than anything else we know. I became determined to get the word out to the general public, and ultimately decided that a feature film was the best way to do so without interference from outside interests.
VIP: Lee, we heard that initially you were not enthusiastic about making this film? What changed your mind?
LF: I had long thought that the information in the diet and health world was conflicted and that essentially there were few clear answers. However, after reading about the work of several of the experts in the field, it was clear there was important evidence to explore.
VIP: After the film was completed, what steps did you and your associates take to get it out to the public?
BW: We did advance screenings in about 30 cities and virtually all of them sold out, oftentimes with long waiting lists. Our success in screening the film to large audiences led to the major independent movie chains like Landmark and Regal agreeing to carry the film, which led to a nationwide theatrical release. The film received a lot of publicity, and we were able to release on DVD and digitally with wide distribution.
VIP: How was the film financed?
BW: The film was privately funded with no group or organizational backing of any kind.
VIP: Behind the scenes of every film there are key figures who aid in making it a reality. Who are some of the people and what roles did they play in producing this film?
LF: Every documentary I've worked on has been a team effort, and this was no exception. First off, I wouldn't have even had a chance at the job if it wasn't for our Producer, John Corry. He actually met Brian first and recommended me for the project. But more than that, John not only planned the nuts and bolts of what was a very complex production, but had a strong creative input into the film as well.
Our Co-Producer, Allison Boon also had a good deal of creative input, as did all the editors who worked on the movie; John Orfanopolus, Brian Crance and Michael Fahey. Ron Bocacci, who did our 3-D graphics, is another contributor who deserves a strong mention.
But our ultimate arbiter was Brian Wendel. Since I knew so little about nutrition before I started the project, I leaned very heavily on him for information, and he took a close interest in--and had a major impact on--the script, visuals, and all other aspects of the final film.
VIP: Overall, how did the film measure up to your expectations?
BW: The film has lived up to expectations. It has introduced the concept of whole plant-based nutrition to a large number of people, many of whom have tried the lifestyle with excellent results. We've read seemingly countless emails, social media posts, blogs, etc. of people who have realized drastic improvements in health, and this was what we were trying to achieve.
VIP: What's the inside story about the title of the film?
BW: We were finished with the first cut of film and had struggled with trying to find a title for a very long time. I became frustrated, and finally emailed some close friends and asked them if they had any ideas. A good friend of mine emailed me back Fork Over Scalpel. This soon became Forks Over Knives.
VIP: Lee, would you share with our readers some of the highlights of your filmmaking career? Which films stand out as milestones for you?
LF: Other than Forks Over Knives I'd have to say the History Channel series The Color of War represents the work I'm proudest of.
VIP: Lee, you have had a distinguished career in making documentary films. Could you tell us about a few of the awards you have received?
LF: Well, of the 19 awards I've been fortunate enough to win (the 24 Carrot Award now makes it 20), I'd have to say that the one that stands out the most is the Cine Special Jury Award I received for the pilot episode of The Color of War series mentioned above. The Special Jury Award is given to the "best of the best" of all the Cine Golden Eagle Award winners in a given category (in this case History). So it means we beat out about 20 other Golden Eagle winners in our category, including shows from the major broadcast networks (such as Dateline on NBC) and from well-established documentary filmmakers such as Ric Burns.
I was also very pleased to be awarded two Gold Medals from the New York Festivals for my 90-minute History Channel special The Crash of Flight 191. One medal was for the show as a whole, the other was for my script. I believe it was the first time the New York Festivals had ever awarded Gold Medals for both a show and its writing.
VIP: Lee, you've written, directed, produced, and narrated films. Which of these specialties call to you the most and why?
LF: Definitely writing. Its been said that the foundation for any good show is its script, and I strongly agree (maybe because I started my career as a writer!)
VIP: Lee, what subjects would you like to explore in future films?
LF: I'm currently writing a feature documentary on tattoos (called Tattoo Nation) so that may give you some idea of the eclectic nature of a freelance career. I'd be thrilled to do something else on nutrition if the opportunity presents itself. But my first love is history--there are so many great stories to tell--so I'd definitely enjoy doing something in that area as well.
VIP: Why did you decide personally to follow the dietary program advocated in the film?
LF: Because the results of my check-up with Dr. Lederman so strongly indicated I was at risk for a heart attack (my cholesterol was over 240, and my bad cholesterol was around 160). Incidentally, as a result of going on a plant-based diet under Dr. Lederman's supervision, within 13 weeks my overall cholesterol level dropped nearly 100 points, and my bad cholesterol was essentially cut in half.
BW: I decided in 2001, well before making the film, that I wanted to live a plant-based lifestyle. I decided to go one week without meat, dairy and eggs. After a few days, I felt improvements in my health and I knew I would never go back. I immediately sensed that all the discussion of the "importance" of eating meat, dairy, and eggs was untrue. Over the years, I've seen how the plant-based diet is more compassionate and better for the environment.
VIP: How has the making of this film affected your personal life?
LF: The biggest change is that I'm now on a plant-based diet, and plan to continue eating this way for the rest of my life.
BW: The film was the beginning of a new career for me. I am immersed in diet and health education, which is something I am really passionate about because it helps people help themselves.
VIP: What health benefits have you realized by following the diet and lifestyle espoused in the film?
LF: Besides the extraordinary drop in my cholesterol levels mentioned above, I feel more energetic. I also have not had any illnesses (such as colds or flu) since I've been eating this way.
BW: I'm at an age where many of my friends who are on the Standard American Det are overweight, beginning to take medication, and seeing their athletic performance tailing off. I am not having any of these negative experiences.
VIP: What personal goals have you set for yourself in the coming years?
LF:To continue eating plant-based, and to write, write, write!
BW: I would like to continue working on educating people about the whole-food plant-based lifestyle.
VIP: What leisure activities and hobbies do you enjoy?
LF: I used to love playing pick-up basketball, but a bad back has probably ended my career on the courts. I also love reading (history and biography mainly).
BW: I enjoy being active, and spend a fair amount hiking and doing fitness training.
VIP: Tell us about your education. What role did your education play in your career?
LF: Since I was a history major at UCLA and most of my documentaries have been on historical subjects, I'd say my education played a very important role in my career.
VIP: Of all of your personal accomplishments, which ones give you the most pride and satisfaction?
LF: Without doubt, my role in Forks Over Knives and the series The Color of War.
BW: Creating Forks Over Knives is easily the accomplishment I am most proud of.
VIP: What person or persons have had the most influence on your life?
LF: Certainly my father and mother, who instilled in me a love of both history and learning in general from an early age.
Read the Vegetarians in Paradise review of Forks Over Knives.