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Bring Back the Culinary Cinema!
by Pat Frickey

Critics will most certainly write either scathing or adulatory articles about the 70th Berlinale, with its sparkling-new, in-tandem directors Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek. Let others dissect the merits of the Berlinale. I personally was impressed, but have little to compare it to having only attended the last three years. And yet, this year something was definitely missing: the Culinary Cinema (Kulinarisches Kino).

Dieter Kosslick was not only the 18-year-long Berlinale director; he was also the founder of the Culinary Cinema. What a joy it was to merge two favorite passions, watching quality films and eating gourmet meals. Between 2007 and 2019, 36 chefs from eight countries participated in Culinary Cinema, including 11 chefs with Michelin stars. The films themselves were not necessarily masterpieces of cinema, but were especially delightful when accompanied by a delicious meal—if you were lucky enough to get a ticket.

In 2018 my fellow journalist KS and I saw a charming film entitled Chef Flynn, and were elated when the  brilliant 19-year-old whiz kid Flynn McGarry appeared after the showing with his entourage. We were distressed that we had missed out on his meal. So, in 2019 we were thrilled to join in viewing The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution in the Martin-Gropius-Bau Museum, followed by a gourmet meal by Chef Angela Hartnett in the mirror tent, magically illuminated by shining fairy lights, reflected and re-reflected in myriad of mirrors. It was so nice we did it twice! Next we saw the Indonesian film Aruna & Lidahnya (the Indonesian ambassador was sitting right behind us), and later we all ate a splendid meal prepared by a local Berlin celebrity Chef Duc Ngo who presented a “Vietnamese variation” (so said the Indonesians present) of Indonesian cooking.

Just before you settle into thinking this article belongs in a glossy foodie blog or a slick Hollywood magazine, please note. At the Culinary Cinema filmgoers were served up with more than just entertainment. Dieter Kosslick and his curator Thomas Struck always had a political message and a mission; they wanted to have a better world. The Slow Food movement, sustainable and eco-friendly farming, these were just some of the themes they’ve promoted. In 2019 the final year of the Culinary Cinema the theme was "A Taste for Balance".

Dieter Kosslick explained, "This is not only a recommendation for a balanced diet, but also a recipe for preserving democracy."

Upon the departure of Kosslick and Struck the Berlinale 2020 dropped the Culinary Cinema, but their legacy lives on. Since 2007 many other film festivals have replicated it in their programs. The Prague International Film Festival – Febiofest was featuring Culinary Cinema for the 6th time in March 2020 before the festival was postponed due to the pandemic. Not surprisingly Kosslick had become a program consultant for Febiofest as well as a patron of its Culinary Cinema evenings.