Talking to Diana Maria Tohătan, you notice her reserved, gentle, manner straight away. A native of Romania, Maria has been living in Italy for the past decade. Alongside her husband, she took part in the second edition of the Migranti Film Festival and shared her interesting views on how food and cinema can become important tools when it comes to intercultural communication.
- Welcome Diana, tell us your story
I was born and raised in Romania, but I’ve been living in Italy for 10 years now. After graduating as a care worker, I worked in the social sector until I arrived in Italy. Here my degree is not recognized, so I began thinking about what I could do to not let my education go to waste. This is what drove me to do a course in cultural mediation, which subsequently allowed me to get a job for a while, in a cooperative in Cuneo. When the work dried up due to lack of funds, I had to find another job. I have now been working in a hotel as a waitress for around 3 years, a kind of temporary job while I wait for something that’s more relevant to my studies.
- What does food mean to you and what relationship does it have with immigration?
For our community, food means family. In Romania, we cook all together, as a family, just like in Italy. Take my husband for example: he is Italian, and now he loves eating Romanian food, we’ve won him over! Food is a primary need, it’s the easiest way to start an intercultural dialogue. This is what we did in Pollenzo by preparing Romanian food for the guests at the film festival. Food is the easiest way to build a relationship with new people and new places. Everyone likes tasting new things. Obviously, really understanding the traditions and the country is not just down to food, but it’s definitely the first (and often the most enjoyable) port of communication between natives and foreigners, in any setting. Following on from this are the elements that characterize each person’s story, the community they belong to and the country as perceived by its inhabitants.
- What dishes did you prepare for the Migranti Film Festival?
This year we wanted to make less traditional and less-known Romanian food, so we concentrated on more refined and special dishes. We started with ciorba de perisoare, a vegetable soup and veal meatballs, served with sour cream. We also did a three-part antipasto which included cheese made with fresh cow’s milk served with dill, on a slice of bell pepper for that extra crunch, as well as toast with Savoy cabbage and a mayonnaise sauce. Although they are things we make every day as well as on special occasions, we decided to bring these dishes from less-known areas of Romania to Pollenzo. Everybody loved them, even the children!
- What did you take away from the Migranti Film Festival?
It was the first time I had taken part in a festival that brings together such important themes as migration and food, offering dishes from various migrant communities. Cooking in the kitchens of the Università di Scienze Gastronomiche di Pollenzo was a really great experience, because it gave me the opportunity to see and smell dishes I had never seen before. All you had to do was look and smell to get a good idea of the flavors! On top of this, sitting down and watching the short films on show was something that I really enjoyed. With film you have to listen carefully, because you can’t interact with the protagonists, nor ask them questions. The only thing you can do is sit in silence with your thoughts, asking yourself questions as you listen and watch the story being told on screen. Every short film had its own sometimes complex, sad, or funny plot that represented the story of migrants in such a varied way. There were so many different elements to each film that for me it became impossible to determine a clear-cut definition of “migration”.