The Berlinale attracts Hollywood's elite to its red carpet. But the protagonists of one of the fastest-growing parts of Berlin's annual cinema festival were no where to be seen on the walk of fame.
Peruvian fishermen, the future of sherry and the lives of cows in Denmark were the focus of movies in the culinary cinema section.
The 13 documentaries about food looked at culture and agriculture. Chefs also attended the Culinary Cinema series – to work, not to watch. The festival offers viewers the chance to dine after they see a movie.
Prize-winning chefs Michael Hoffmann, Tohru Nakamura and Paco Pérez cooked meals for viewers in a candle-lit restaurant close to the museum where the movies were shown.
The films' protagonists – when they weren't animals – were searching for inspiration. For many, food was a way to know places and themselves. Many protagonists were concerned about how food is grown and eaten and looked far and wide for answers.
Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio learned to cook in France. He opened a restaurant in Peru but realized his work wasn’t reaching many people. “I was living in a bubble far from the lives of normal Peruvians,” he said.
The film “Finding Gaston” by Patricia Perez showed his travels around the country, talking with elderly women to learn their recipes, working with fishermen and teaching young cooks. “For Peruvians, food is not just about eating, an enjoyable activity,” he said. “It’s our hope, our pride, our peace and our capacity to dream.”
In cooking, respect is everything, Mr. Acurio said. “Do you know how long it takes for that crab to grow?” He instructs students to put aside their preconceptions. “Should a pizza always be the same shape? For fast food, sure. But at a restaurant, it should be like your grandma made it. ”
Tradition provided new answers for many.
Phie Ambo’s film “Good Things Await” showed a Danish couple using old farming methods to feed their cattle only local food. They were farming Red Danish Dairy herd, a 6,000 year old herd. The farmer, Niels Stokholm wound up in court, fighting for his livelihood, to feed and keep his cows as he saw fit.
In a film about seed banks, a gardener recalled her grandfather giving her some seeds. “He handed me them and I could feel the knowledge that had been passed down for generations,” she said.
The film by Sandy MacLeod, “Seeds of Time,” showed efforts by scientist Cary Fowler to protect biodiversity from climate change, by creating a doomsday seedbank, a complex in Svaalbard storing seeds donated by governments around the world. “Peas can keep for five thousand years if they are properly kept,” Mr. Fowler said. Beside his frozen “garden of Eden,” he encouraged gardeners to keep as many different species of plant alive by growing them.
Everyday efforts in the kitchen were celebrated too.
In Yun Hwang’s “An Omnivorous Family’s Dilemma“ the filmmaker tried to find the best food she can for her child. But she could not forget what she saw in industrial pig farms. She found an alternative farmer who took time to raise his animals. But she still had doubts, though her son liked meat and her husband did too. What to do?
Several movies looked at kitchens home and away, as cooks sought bridges between the past and the future. Chefs not only cooked for the audience - their lives were the subject of some of the documentaries.
“Sergio Hermann F***ING PERFECT” portrayed a Michelin-starred chef in transition and feeling conflicted about his successes, struggles and sacrifices. The film showed the competition and long hours it cost him to maintain a high standard at his restaurant in the Netherlands.
“Cooking up a tribute” followed a team of chefs from El Cellar de Can Roca, one of the best restaurants in the world, as they hunted for inspiration. They closed shop for the summer and traveled around Latin America and viewers followed their six-month journey through Mexico, Peru and Colombia as they tracked the origins of mescal, tested chili flowers and sucked the honey out of ants’ bottoms. Back home, they created 57 new meals based on traditional recipes from the places they visited. Summing up their explorations, one of the cooks simply said, “Dios mio!”
Drinks also made an appearance. Families making sherry talked about the production of the wine, and changing tastes in Jose Luis Lopez Linares’ film “Sherry and the mystery of Palo Cortado.” Questions of quality, soil and sun all feed into the 3,000-year old process of making the fortified wine – but will people still drink it in the future?
Meanwhile outside the film festival, streetfood was available offered by counters for hungry viewers as they rushed from one movie theater to the next.
This year, to celebrate the tenth annual festival of food and film, the two people who inspired the section, Alice Waters and Massimo Bottura received the Berlinale Camera award. Ms. Waters, an influential chef from Berkley, is a vocal supporter of the organic food movement and Mr. Bottura is the head chef of a restaurant in Modena, Italy which has three Michelin stars.
“Back then, people thought it was a bit of a weird idea,” said Thomas Struck, who curates the organizer of the culinary cinema, looked back at when the section first started. “But it has inspired many other food and cinema events worldwide.
“In the past people went to people went to movies then went out for dinner afterwards on a date. Then people ate throughout the movies and it made a lot of noise and smelled,” Mr. Struck said. “We decided to honor both food and movies by doing them separately.”
However fine the dinners were that the festival served, they were only part of the story, he said.
As he introduced a film where patrons recalled their favorite restaurant in 1970s Rome, Mr. Struck said, “This film is about conviviality.” He underlined, “It’s not about the fine ingredients or the haute cuisine, it’s the company that is the main ingredient in food.”
Allison Williams is deputy editor in chief of Handelsblatt Global Edition. During the festival she spent sixteen hours watching movies about food accompanied by packets of crisps, much coffee and a roast chicken. To contact the author: [email protected]