What happens when you combine the extraordinary passion New Yorker’s have for food, with their equally-passionate interest in film and theatre? You get the NYC Food Film Festival, four days jam-packed with culinary and visual experiences, where food and film are presented in a truly original form: dishes are first presented by images on the big screen and then appear, almost magically, in the screening room – through an usual mise en scene that was all about taste.
«There’s something about seeing a food film that makes you really want to eat the food in the film. At the Food Film Festival, you can do it,» says filmmaker George Motz, famous for his 2005 documentary Hamburger America (2005) - and who co-created the festival in 2007 along with chef Harry Hawk.
The festival, which takes place annually in both New York and Chicago (although there are plans to expand to other cities) and is produced in collaboration with the James Beard Foundation, is a kind of worldwide trip through flavours, cultures, colours, and traditions. The 28 films in competition (chosen out of 120 entries) come from almost all of the continents and recount faraway lands and their regional dishes, they convey the values of sharing and family, with bonds that grow stronger from the exchange of food.
So I spent a weekend making new discoveries, tasting “themed” creations from different chefs, experiencing flavours that were unfamiliar to my palate and exchanging comments with my fellow attendees with regards to the various culinary and cinematic proposals.
I took a trip around Perù with Mistura - The Power of Food, the short film by the director Patricia Perez, who managed to paint an exceptional portrait of this region, its people, and most of all, of one of Lima’s (and the entire country’s) most important, beloved events.
The film is narrated by Peru’s most widely-acclaimed chef, Gaston Acurio, whose role as an ambassador of his nation’s cuisine is has been a fundamental part of his career. It is thanks to him that his country has undergone such a widespread culinary revolution, which reaches its maximum expression with the Mistura festival.
Taking place every September, the food festival involves tens of thousands of professional, passionate, and amateur foods who come there to prepare, present and enjoy food while exchanging inspirations and ideas, traditions and innovations. It’s an unusual portrait of a little-known country whose culinary potential is truly extraordinary, and the film perfectly describes a movement that I’m sure we’re only just beginning to hear about, as Peruvian cuisine is almost certainly destined for exportation.
Thanks to Patricia’s work, I learned about the story of the “tia Grimanesa” and her renowned anticuchos; I learned about Julio Hancco, a potato farmer from Cuzco in the Andes, who produces 186 different varieties of potatoes. Yes, you read correctly: 186 -- surprised? I certainly was. And I also discovered the secret address in Javier that serves one of the best ceviche in the world.
It’s no wonder, then, that Mistura The Power of Food, has become the symbol of this edition of the Food Film Festival, winning both the Jarlsberg Best Short Film Award as well as the 2011 Food Filmmaker of the Year Award: the film was made not only with talent and skill, but with love, respect and pride for an entire nation.
The poetic film Bahh and Mi from the director Prod Bao Nguyen uses the preparation of a Vietnamese sandwich to tell the simple but moving story of the two owners of An Choi, the restaurant on New York’s Lower East Side.
Another entertaining film about a local figure, Simon Friedman (also known as “The Scorcese of Soup”) told the story of the Midwinter Soup Frenzy, and the ingenious idea of launching a collective appointment on the coldest day of the year. The rules were simple but effective: bring together your best friends and make a giant soup into which you can dip some bread, and wash down with a good glass of wine. It’s a modern ritual whose aim is to invoke the sun’s return while in good company. The success of the initiative is guaranteed, already with its own fanclub and chant of «soup, soup, soup, soup, souuup».
Another thing I learned was that, if I were to ever inherit a run-down truck, the first thing I would do is be a part of the Truck farm, a kind of mobile vegetable garden that’s been created in the back of an old Dodge pick-up. Highly praised by the small-but-vocal green movement of New York, the vehicle has been put together by partners Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, the same duo who filmed the short movie, Truck Farm, which brings to the screen New York’s eco-minded side, encouraging city dwellers to start growing their own lettuce and tomatoes.
The Truck-Farm initiative aims, of course, to make passers-by smile at the sight of the vegetable patch, but it’s also a way to raise awareness among urbanites. And on the last evening of the Film Festival, the four-wheeled garden was parked outside the theatre, commanding a great deal of attention.
«The best part of the festival is that by celebrating and sharing food every day, we learn something new about culture, tradition, seduction and communication,» says George Motz. And after spending my weekend at the festival, I could only agree with him.
The Winners of the Food Film Festival 2011
Zergut, Dirs. Natasha Subramaniam & Alisa LapidusBurger (Metro NY Best Food Porn Film Award)
Changua, Dir. Ximena Sanche (Maker Best Super-Short Film Award)
Mistura: The Power of Food, Dir. Patricia Perez (Jarlsberg Best Short Film Award and the special prize 2011 Food Filmmaker of the Year Award). Truck Farm, Dir. Ian Cheney (Sugar in the Raw Best Feature Film Award)
The Big Table, Dir. Ben Niles (Google Audience Choice Award)
The Best Thing I Ever Done, Dir. M. Emily MacKenzie (Bloomberg Made In NY Award).
Photo courtesy NYC Food Film Festival