The 21st annual San Luis Obispo International Film Festival (SLOIFF) will include the world premiere of “Fear no Fruit” on Wednesday, March 11, at 7 p.m. in the Alex and Faye Spanos Theatre. Cal Poly’s Center for Expressive Technologies will host the event.
“Fear no Fruit” focuses on the story of the woman who brought the kiwi, spaghetti squash and habanero chile, along with 200 more exotic fruits and vegetables, to America. We’ve been eating her products for years — yet many don’t even know her name: Frieda Caplan.
This documentary features Caplan, the now-91-year-old icon who received an honorary doctorate at Cal Poly in 2014, as she tells her tale of success. She was the first woman to own a business in the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market and has revolutionized the American supermarket.
“It’s a great story about a woman who succeeded in a man’s world back in the ’60s,” SLOIFF director Wendy Eidson said.
“The more interesting part of the story is her personal story — that she was able to be so successful as a woman during that time and raise a family,” she said.
The movie actually started as a short film, but when director and producer Mark Brian Smith started filming, he soon realized it had to be a full-fledged documentary.
“I knew I had a bigger story that I wanted to tell the audience,” Smith said. “(A longer movie) could have more impact, tell a more complete story and make a bigger splash.”
Smith and Eidson expect the film not only to entertain its audience, but also to educate them about where their food really comes from.
“People will be a little more interested the next time they go to the grocery store,” Eidson said.
David Gillette, Cal Poly English professor and director of the Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies Program, agreed.
“It’ll give people a much better understanding of where their food comes from,” Gilette said. “They can see how the process works from the field to the dining table.”
Political science professor and director of the Center for Expressive Technologies Elizabeth Lowham said she hopes the film sparks good discussion.
Plus, she asked, “Who doesn’t want to go to a world premiere?”
As the star of the documentary, Caplan is known as the “Queen of Kiwi,” but that’s only one of many titles she’s held through the years.
“Before I was the Queen (of Kiwi), I was first the Mushroom Queen because that’s how I started,” Caplan said.
It’s true — fungi really did launch her career. After building up the mushroom business for six years, she had the chance to start her own business.
“I went to the mushroom growers and said: ‘Here’s this opportunity, what should I do?’” she said. “I had no idea how to run a business.”
But once she started, there was no slowing her down. Soon, Caplan became well known in the produce business, and farmers trying to bring new foods into the market were told to “go see Frieda.”
“Anyone that came to me with an idea, I would try it,” she said. “I love challenges, and the challenges just kept coming.”
Smith admires Caplan’s passion and tireless energy.
“She never sees obstacles,” he said. “She just overcomes them.”
Caplan emphasized that none of her success was planned; it just happened.
“You don’t have to have a plan,” she said. “You just have to take advantage of opportunities.”
Caplan’s favorite part of the job is discovering exotic foods and meeting unique people. (Fun fact: She was good friends with Julia Child!)
“It’s an open door to meeting people who like to contribute to others’ good health and well-being,” she said.
The weirdest thing she’s eaten: the mangosteen (no, it is nothing like a mango). She remembers trying to figure out how to open the thing on her first encounter with it. Not only is it delicious, Caplan said, it’s also one of the prettiest fruits.
The wise entrepreneur invites everyone to witness her success on the big screen.
“It tells a wonderful story about produce,” Caplan said. “It tells a story about the opportunities anybody can have, including women.”
Like the title of the movie suggests, Smith and Caplan really do advocate “fearing no fruit.”
“Don’t judge a fruit by its skin,” Smith said. “It might be really tasty and juicy inside and look scary outside.”
More reason to see the film (as if you need more convincing) is that Cal Poly and President Jeffrey Armstrong are actually shown at the end of the documentary, when Caplan received her honorary doctorate in June 2014.
Smith and Caplan will both attend the premiere and participate in a Q&A session following the screening.
Downtown Cinemas will also screen the film at 1 p.m. on Thursday, March 12. Tickets for students are $10 and available at pacslo.org.