Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Food Film Festival Puts Farms In Focus

New York and Chicago's Food Film Festival has seen a spike in submissions for documentaries that follow foods from farm to table.

moviegoers eating in a darkened theater

Photo: Ryan Jensen

Moviegoers at the Food Film Fest sample items featured in the films. This year, the festival will serve 35 films and 120 foods and beverages.

Taste-O-Vision

This not your typical concession stand. Imagine trading butter-flavored popcorn for plates of artisanal brisket and horchata ice cream, or a buffet of fondue and perogies. This is the scene at New York and Chicago’s Food Film Festival, where attendees get to try the tasty items featured in documentaries they’re watching.

“Our goal is to celebrate people who make food and the food they make,” said Festival director George Motz. “We’re not about finger wagging. We’re not about telling you what you should and shouldn’t eat.”

But Motz added that since the films explore origins of food attendees will glean positive messages about health, sustainability and community. When the festival launched seven years ago, there were just 25 submissions. Since then, Motz said, the number of films focused on farming has ballooned. This year the festival received 250 submissions, and about a third of them were for the festival’s Farm to Film to Table series.

“Everybody has to eat, and most people want to know where their food comes from. [Festival attendees] get to find out where their food comes from and meet the people who make and care about the food that they’re about to put in their body.”

Motz’s own film, Head On, focuses on the “proper” way to eat shrimp, but also covers challenges in an industry that is shifting overseas. This year’s festival serves up 120 different foods and beverages, and features 35 culinary films. The dish-film combinations range from brisket and pastrami during a Barbecue film marathon, to an all-vegan repast that compliments a film about a free meal for 100,000 people prepared at a Sikh temple in India every day.

We were aiming to drop an audience into the chef’s minds eye and a visual aesthetic that captured the fluid nature of thought and memory.

Shooting Passion

Film maker Matt Checkowski, who is showing two submissions at this year’s event, said he’s fascinated by food artisans at work, and hopes to capture their passion in his films.

“I think there’s so much that connects the ‘filmmaker’ with the ‘chef’ or culinary artisan in how they see the world, engage in their craft, and create what they create. I see film and storytelling as a way to grow culture and there’s no better partner for that than a great meal.”

There are significant technical challenges to overcome, he said, especially when trying to portray food in way that makes the subject appetizing.

“The craft and technical considerations like getting the color just right can become a total crapshoot. But, I still believe that attention to detail is important regardless of the control you lose once it finds its way out into the world.”

His two festival films this year are Beer Braised Ox Cheeks and Mixed Berries, Three Ways. Both follow Michelin-starred chef Martin Berg as he prepares two dishes — but the film is edited in reverse chronological order.

“The idea was to capture a chef’s dream of the perfect meal, and as we got to thinking about what that would look like, we referenced a lot of the work we’d done on dream sequences, namely the ones in Minority Report,” said Checkowski, who worked on the Spielberg film. “We were aiming to drop an audience into the chef’s minds eye and a visual aesthetic that captured the fluid nature of thought and memory.”

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Chad Bouchard

Chad Bouchard is a veteran reporter and WFIU alum who has covered wild and wooly beats from Indonesia to Capitol Hill. His radio work has aired on NPR, PRI and Voice of America, and his writing has appeared in The Sunday Telegraph and Scientific American’s health magazine, Lives. He has also spent a lifetime gardening, foraging and eating weird stuff.

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