The focus on food at the festival is always a highlight, and 2016 marked the tenth year of Culinary Cinema at the festival. From the street food at Joseph-von-Eichendorff-Gasse in Potsdamer Platz, to the gourmet meals served at the special restaurant at Gropius Mirror Restaurant made by Michelin starred chefs dished out to the lucky few who managed to snag a ticket, there was a little something tasty for everyone.
Eleven feature-length films were shown in the section with a focus on the relationship between food, culture, and politics. Particular attention is shown to our relationship with cooking and the kitchen. Cooking can bring great joy not only to those that consume, but also those who create. However, technology and social change seem to be pushing people towards quicker and less healthy diets. This year’s Culinary Cinema not only examines the relationship people have with cooking, but also the bigger picture of industrial food production, environmental damage, and hunger in one fifth of the world’s population. Four of the films are reviewed below:
Off-Road. Mugaritz, Feeling a Way (Campo a través. Mugaritz, intuyendo un camino)
Pep Gatell, Spain
You know a film is going to be challenging when the section curator opens the screening with a disclaimer about how overwhelming the film can be. Overwhelming is a good word to describe this muddled experimental film filled with typography, shots of an efficiently run kitchen, and voice-overs of cooks talking about how difficult and yet rewarding it is to work at Mugaritz. Pretentious is another one. With inspirational quotes, long, close shots of flowers and ingredients, and over-the-top scenes like having the head chef Andoni Luis Aduriz run down a hill with rolling plates after him, there isn’t really anything here particularly original or interesting. The voice-overs in particular often step over the line towards ridiculousness and leave one wondering if they all have a form of Stockholm Syndrome, because making good food is not a reason (at least in my mind) to give up one’s entire life and allow oneself to be constantly abused. But apparently this is something they are all proud of. Headache inducing, unappetizing, and showy, Off-Road. Mugaritz, Feeling a Way (what does that title even mean by the way?) is certainly not a highlight. (RF)
Portrait of a Garden (Portret van een tuin)
Rosie Stapel, Netherlands
In Holland, near Dordrecht, an 85-year-old gardener Jan Freriks teaches the craft of viticulture to Daan van der Have. Daan is the owner of a large, estate, kitchen garden which was neglected for quite some time, and for the last twenty-three years, he and Jan have been working to bring it back to its former glory. Portrait of a Garden is a slow trek through the seasons, focusing on the work of Jan and Daan as they plant, prune, and harvest the spoils of their hard work. Gardening on such a large scale is difficult work. There are not only vegetables, but also a multitude of different fruit trees to work on. Jan’s encyclopedic knowledge is impressive, and he occasionally comments on the tragedy that there are not so many people left who know how to handle gardens such as this. Yet still, in his old age he educates apprentices and passes on his knowledge and experience to continue the trade. Sometimes a slow film is good for the soul, and Portrait of a Garden is a soothing and fascinating experience. Jan and Daan clearly have the highest levels of respect for one another, and yet work in relative silence, both focused on their respective tasks, only making comments on the health of the plants around them. Watching a garden slowly grow throughout the year is educational as it is beautiful, and Rosie Stapel has a talent of setting up long contemplative shots that somehow never get boring. If there is a criticism to make, it is that there could have been a little more history told about the garden itself, but perhaps that would have damaged the peaceful flow, and that was honestly what made the film so enjoyable. (RF)
Mor Kaplansky, Israel/Germany
For as long as Mor Kaplansky could remember, her grandmother Naomi Kaplansky had told tales about the legendary Café Nagler in Berlin. Naomi’s grandparents opened the café in 1908 and ran it for seventeen years before closing it to immigrate to Palestine. A budding filmmaker, Mor decides to investigate the history of the café and travels to Berlin to make a documentary film about her family’s entrepreneurial history. However, things don’t work out quite the way she expected, and soon she discovers that not only is the building no longer standing (even her great-grandparents’ apartment block is gone), but also that the café was not necessarily as glamorous as she had been led to believe.
Mor begins her journey armed with family photographs, monogrammed dishes from the café, and a general knowledge from family legend that the café was once a hopping, stylish location in Berlin. However, her imaginings of the café are soon shattered as she learns that no local historians have even heard of it and she fails to find much information other than a few vague crime reports on microfiche. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that Mor is quite inexperienced, both as a filmmaker and as a documentarian, and what could have been an interesting take on the cultural memory of the German diaspora instead dissolves into a naïve and sickly-sweet family story. With more planning and scripting perhaps Café Nagler could have had more impact, but instead it is just rather forgettable.
In Defense of Food
Michael Schwarz, USA
In a film adaptation of his popular book of the same name, U.S. food author Michael Pollan takes the audience on a journey through his philosophy of healthy eating. “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” is his general belief, but of course things are a little more complicated than that. When he says eat food, he doesn’t mean just anything of course. Typical advice follows: stay away from overly processed foods, eat natural, eat more veg, and keep your portions down. Nothing particularly new here, but he includes some history about malnutrition and the development of processed foods throughout history (did you know that the doctor who created corn flakes believed protein was bad for you?) Also, there’s some time spent on how we can reeducate the masses on the issue by getting kids more involved in learning about the food that they eat. Overall, In Defense of Food is an overly simplistic view on the issues of nutrition, but perhaps informative to those who are just starting to learn the basics. Perhaps this was why it was chosen for the Youth Food Cinema section and was shown to Berlin school classes along with a menu designed by Michelin starred chef Alexander Dressel. For an audience of children, In Defense of Food is a perfect introduction towards healthy and mindful eating.