What’s so bad about feeling good?

SOME years ago, a television newsreader became the butt of jokes and sneers because he tried to include a bit of good news in his broadcasts. Good news, you see, is no news. Good news doesn’t sell newspapers or advertising.

But these days, bad news is so pervasive that you often hear people complain that they switch off the radio or television news or that they have stopped buying local or national newspapers because they are full of bad news and horror stories.

It is true that a big political drama, a multi-vehicle motorway crash, a catastrophic fire, a celebrity relationship break-up or a shocking terrorist attack will send us straight to the television or radio and will mean increased newspaper sales. It’s a strange combination of shock and curiosity, “all in this together” mutual support, “there but for the grace of God” relief or even prurient eavesdropping.

But the everyday attritional drip-drip of constant bad news is depressing. At its worst, the switch-off response is one of selfish disinterest – “none of my business” or even self-satisfied gloating (as in the oft-quoted comment of an un-named lady in waiting to Queen Victoria, after a performance of Antony and Cleopatra: “How very unlike the home life of our own dear queen.”)

It may be a slightly guilty acknowledgement “nothing I can do” – so do nothing, keep calm and carry on. Or it may be a general angst-filled helplessness  –“What can I – or anyone – do?” – that we all feel about, say, a shocking report on wildlife extinctions, pollution of the oceans, climate change, the refugee crisis or the disaster that is Syria.

Over the 12 years that we have run the Screen Bites Food Film Festival we have noticed that increasingly audiences want to go off into the night with a warm feeling. Dark dramas that end badly don’t generally appeal to our village audiences. It’s not that they are cosy and blinkered or unadventurous – this year’s programme included films from Iran, France, Japan and Germany, with scenes of violence against Mexicans in California and Indians in rural France and explosive language in a high end restaurant kitchen.

Rather, what we see is a response to the underlying optimism about human nature that is revealed in many of the films. They are not Pollyanna-pretty, but often depictions of hard lives in an unforgiving, speed-racing world, in which little acts of kindness and anonymous helping hands remind us that there is good among the gloom.

The theme of food in film is often a metaphor for love and a sense of community. We enjoy the response of our audiences to the heartwarming endings of films such as Bag Of Rice, set among a very poor community in 1990s Teheran, East Side Sushi, where a young Mexican cook challenges the traditional attitudes of a Japanese sushi master, or Our Little Sister, where preparing food and sharing memories unite three young Japanese women who were abandoned 15 years before by their father with the half-sister they didn’t know existed until his death.

Small acts of generosity can transform a day. Recently, we hosted a Dorset day visit by some members of the Guild of Food Writers. We met the Davies family, who produce the Dorset Blue Vinny cheese, Karen and David Richards of Capreolus Fine Food to learn about their charcuterie, Simon Holland of Washingpool Farm Shop and George Streatfeild of Discover Farming. They all gave time – and tastings – to tell the visiting writers their stories.

The day nearly ended badly when one of West Dorset’s many potholes shredded a tyre on my car. I knew there was a garage in a village that was very close and I limped along, hoping it was not another victim of rural garage closures. As we turned into their forecourt, the mechanics  stopped what they were doing, came running over, signalled me where to park, and immediately set about getting out the space-saver tyre, removing the damaged tyre, moving a good rear wheel to the front, putting on the temporary tyre and checking the tyre pressures.

We were back on the road in barely 10 minutes, and they made no charge. Our London visitors commented, in astonishment, that where they live, the garage would have quoted a fee before coming out even to look at the car.

There are so many things wrong with our world, our politics, our selfishness, greed and carelessness of the planet, and we should all do what we can to expose and combat them – but when you meet good people and experience kindness and generosity, we should talk about that too. Good news ought to be celebrated. FC