The Seattle International Film Festival, under the culinary cinema program, featured several films and documentaries with a food or drink focus. Here are my personal favorites:
Top restaurant and chefs
King Georges is a film on Georges Perrier and his historic French luxe restaurant Le Bec-Fin. When he announced his closure, director Erika Frankel was willing to document with her camera its final years. Her camera lenses said it all: revealed George's love for cream and butter, his famous galettes and the French sauces, his demanding nature and his big heart all nicely pairing with entertaining stories from the restaurant and haute cuisine dishes. But the historic French establishment in Philadelphia couldn't last more than 40 years. The chandeliers were too heavy as were the creamy sauces for the new generation of diners who wanted simpler, yet quality food. George is now a retiree but occasionally spends his time at Laurel, top chef Nicholas Elmi's restaurant and George's protégé.
Food writer Kevin Pang wanted to make a web short but Curtis Duffy's intriguing life gave him and co-director Helenowski an incentive to continue to a full film - For Grace. The camera follows Duffy and his search for the perfect location, chairs, cooks and dishes during the year of preparation for his new restaurant Grace. Through the well-paced film, viewers will be shocked at Duffy's personal drama and his quest for happiness. The 3-Michelin star chef might not be fully happy but at least he has the grace to admit it.
In Cooking Up a Tribute, director Andrea Gómez follows the brothers Roca, owners of the El Celler de Can Roca restaurant, in their search for local, indigenous food cultures and ingredients in South America - from Oaxaca to the mountains of Peru. The goal is to create 57 new dishes using the newly discovered ingredients in the restaurant's headquarters in Girona; then they all travel for five weeks and re-creat those dishes during the restaurant's world tour in six cities. The result: unforgettable food and drinks. It is not a surprise that the restaurant was voted the number 1 restaurant in the world just a few days ago.
Willemiek Kluijfhout documentary, Sergio Herman, Fucking Perfect features Sergio Herman who exhausted chose to close his 3-Michelin star Oud Sluis restaurant, only to open a new one a year later. The film documents the struggle between perfection, hard work and sacrifice of a top chef who finds it difficult to keep his personal balance. The journey is not easy but the film reveals one thing: chefs can't stay away from the kitchen even if they don't cook.
In the birth of Saké is a well-shot documentary about the 2,000-year-old tradition known as saké. Filmed at Yoshida Brewery, a 144-year-old family-owned small brewery in northern Japan, it features the tough life of saké makers who work in the brewery during the winter months until saké is made. Erik Shirai's camera moves from the fermented grains of rice, to the faces of the brewers, their bowls of miso and their lighthearted moments. The outcome: Erik Shirai's film puts saké successfully on the big screen and pays tribute to those who make it.
For meat lovers
In Steak (R)evolution, spectators will travel around the world in the search of the perfect steak. French butcher Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec is the leading character in Franck Ribière's document as his guide: he talks to farmers, touches the cows and eat many steaks before his mind is up. But the movie is not just about a steak; it's about the relationship between farmers, butchers, restaurant owners and the diners who all together decide what steak will be on their table. You will learn about Peter Luger's famous secret, see cows in Japan who listen to Mozart, an Italian chef who changed Shakespeare's famous lines and the entertaining writer of the Steak book -I can't reveal more. Vegans will pass out but carnivores will look for their best steak afterwards no matter what.
The food critic
City of Gold, a film where Los Angeles Times food citric Jonathan Gold reveals his anonymity while at his desk at work, is not only a tribute to the food columnist himself. It's a film that celebrates the food diversity of the city of Angels that -sadly- so little Americans know about. Laura Gabbert's lenses successfully alternate between Gold and local favorite dishes with Los Angeles being the backdrop of this thought-provoking film.
The politics of food trade
Sugarcane Shadows director David Constantin chose the controversial topic of sugarcane factories and its closures in the island of Mauritius. Known as a vacation resort, a paradise on earth, the film portrays a very different reality than the colorful island's postcard. It documents what Constantin calls "a violent metamorphosis of the island: abandoned sugar mills, cane fields going down and being replaced by luxury villas, commercial centers and 5 stars hotels." The main characters belong to local, multi-ethnic communities who live with very limited resources. Although I found the movie rather sad, I got a glimpse of hope at the very end. The turquoise-colored beach (the first time viewers actually see it) and the main protagonist, Marco, who can imagine that another life is possible after the mill.