Review: Milked is a brave but deeply flawed exposé on New Zealand's dairy industry

Chris Huriwai in Milked documentary.
Chris Huriwai in Milked. Photo credit: Ahimsa Films

It's impressively ballsy that this documentary goes directly after Fonterra, the biggest company in our very small country.

Presented by activist Chris Huriwai, who also co-produces, Milked is a no-holds-barred look at the enormous damage the dairy industry wreaks on New Zealand.

It's perhaps a sign of our maturity as a nation that this film can so boldly attack the backbone industry it targets, and there are some stunning, shocking facts presented in it.

Former Green Party MP Gareth Hughes, economist Peter Fraser and conservationist Dame Jane Goodall are great interviewees. Alongside them are some well-summarised, well-presented statistics to get the message across without getting bogged down in too much data.

It's also great that seemingly viable alternatives to the dairy industry are presented; it's not all doom and gloom, there is also an exciting look at fermentation-made faux-milk that doesn't require dairy farming.

But this is far from a great documentary.

There's way too much filler, like when Huriwai is pointlessly shown striking an exaggerated thinker's pose on top of what appears to be Mt Eden, looking at Auckland's cityscape, while his voiceover muses about green alternatives to the existing systems.

There are several bits like that. In another, he stands under a waterfall with his eyes closed as the water falls around him in slow motion, his narration voicing concern about the impact of dairy farming on our fresh waterways.

The problems are greater than stylistic ones, however. Milked has some major integrity issues.

In addition to outlining the environmental problems dairy farming creates, the doco works its way up into a total condemnation of almost every part of the industry that gets a bit over the top in a way it really doesn't need to.

There's recycled old animal cruelty videos and abattoir footage used to shock that add very little to the film's main message. Then there are a number of eyebrow-raising health claims about dairy and even a suggestion that the stresses of the industry are causing Kiwi farmers to take their own lives.

The environmental issues are mostly well documented and believable; some of the other claims - including around the extremely sensitive subject of suicide - are not backed up as well.

Alongside the great interviewees mentioned above, there are others who aren't as recognisable. Documentaries using talking heads you're unfamiliar with can only get you to buy into the points they're making as much as you trust the filmmakers.

In this case, one of the interviewees is former farmer and columnist Rachel Stewart, someone mainly known for 'joking' about killing pro trans rights people and having her firearms taken away by the police as a result. On Twitter she uses terms like "woketards" and mostly uses the platform to attack people she doesn't like, often including scientists.

She is labelled a "journalist" and treated as a credible one in Milked, which makes it almost impossible to believe the filmmakers on any point they make that requires a leap of faith from the viewer.

Another interviewee is one of the people who made Cowspiracy, an American documentary on Netflix that Milked is quite similar to, but one that has been shown to use several very dubious 'facts'.

If we are mature enough as a nation to have a documentary like this be so scathing of one of our primary industries, then it's also OK for me as a film critic to be honest about the serious problems with it.

Milked makes some good points about a tremendously important issue facing Aotearoa and adds to the conversation we should be having about it. What a shame it's such a flawed documentary.

Two stars.

*Milked is playing as part of the 2021 New Zealand International Film Festival.