In 1994 the catalogue to the first Bra Short Movie Festival began with the words, ‘Bra is something of a short name for a city’. Who knows maybe brevity is imprinted in the genes of the place, situated midway between Piedmont’s Langhe district and Turin!
Born as a national showcase for homegrown Italian films and screenplays, the biennial festival has grown over time. This year’s big novelty will be ‘Slow Food on Film’, a section devoted to short food movies (probably the first of its kind anywhere), that will flank the traditional competitions for best screenplay, best Italian film and best European film.
The event is organized by the City of Bra (with the patronage of the Italian Ministry of the Arts and the Piedmont Regional Authority), which has asked locally born and bred Slow Food to act as official sponsor for the new initiative. In the competition regulations, circulated through Slow Food’s vast worldwide network of members, sympathizers and journalists, film-makers are asked to recount food ‘as the rite of food as an expression of a culture or a form of learning, of a technique or of an emblematic element of a social condition. Or a magical and/or romantic vision of existence. Or else – why not? – as a passion and/or obsession, the source of sacred or profane veneration and/or dedication.…’
Slowly but surely, the response has lived up to our expectations. Over 50 food movies have come in from all over the world, so I can safely say that the success of ‘Slow Food on Film’ has been guaranteed even before it’s begun. 21 films from nine countries (Italy, United States, Great Britain, Japan, Australia, Greece, Canada, Austria and the Netherlands) have been selected for the competition.
The ‘Slow Food on Film’ menu is a varied one with the shortlisted films exploring food from every angle imaginable. A Love Supreme by the Anglo-Indian director Nilesh Patel is an audiovisual essay on the making of samosas, shot and edited in the style of the fight scenes of Scorsese’s Raging Bull, while the animated short Bio esiste (Bio Exists) by the Sardinian Sara Ragone speaks about the manipulation of food. In Il bocconcino (The Snack) by Convivium Productions of Miami, food causes conflict between a ‘slow’, bon vivant post office clerk of Italian origin and his fast food-loving American career girl partner. In Eat Like A Winner, directed by a trio of American university professors, food is the cue for a Levi-Strauss-inspired ‘visual anthropology’. The Japanese short Boiled Eggs, directed by Minobu Wakiyama, extols the daily pleasure of eating hard-boiled eggs, while in Chocolate, a three-minute piece by the American director Susan di Rende, a box of chocolate truffles provides a pretext to lay bare the artifice of social convention. If Fabio’s Kitch’n, by the Australian David Pyefinch, satirizes trendy TV cookery shows, in Il frigo (The Icebox), by the Bologna-based partnership of Ludovica Banfi and Barbara Fantini, the appliance in question literally turns into a window on the world. The one-and-a-half-minute Gnam Gnam (Munch Munch), by Roberto Merlino, suggests desperate remedies for the desperate ills of contaminated contemporary food, while Il Grugnito dell’Universo (The Grunt of the Universe), directed by Paul Gargano, reveals the ‘daily atrocity’ of meat processing. Kosher Pickle, by Esther Koohan Paik, is an affectionate portrait of a man who identifies totally with his pickles. Life Is A Sweet, by James Duff from Marina del Rey in California, tells the story of a creative who finds consolation and inspiration in chocolate, and the amusing Love To Meat You by Athens-born Maria Lafi uses food to stage a minor apologue of love and death. The Offering, a silent short directed by the Chinese-Canadian Paul Lee, tells the moving story of a love affair between an oriental monk and one of his novices in which everything revolves around the exchange of a box of rice balls. The American Oyster Guanaca, directed by Sarah Cohen and Jennifer Bishop, sums up the concept of food as pleasure in the story of an El Salvador dish pig who wants to give his family a plate of oysters – whatever the cost! Set in Fifties Calabria, Peperoni (Peppers) by Giuseppe Gagliardi is a hymn in praise of the vegetables of the title. The Dutch film De Weerstand (The Resistance), directed by Annemarie Meijboom, imagines a not so far off future in which food becomes an object of social conflict and conspiracy. As the title suggests, food literally rebels in Revolting Pasta, by the Austrian director Raphael Barth, whereas it’s diners in a restaurant who fight the Salt Battle, directed by Ron Termaat of the Netherlands. The main character in Stanley, a British animated short directed by Suzie Templeton, has an overwhelming passion for a giant cabbage that grows in his garden, while the war widow in the American director Andrew Bloch’s Sunday finds consolation and comfort in her Sunday lunch.
My co-directors Luca Busso, Luisa Grosso and I decided to admit not only new films, but also ones with a past behind them. Hence the program ranges from the award-winning Stanley and The Offering to debut efforts such as Boiled Eggs, and Oyster Guanaca.The latter was actually shot in 1996, but the directors have decided that the Slow Food on Film festival is the best venue for its first public showing in Bra. Likewise, though Kosher Pickle has never been projected in Italy, it was actually shot way back in 1981. On the other hand, as I write, the final cut of Il bocconcino has yet to be made!
The festival will thus be akin to a sample issue of a magazine: the summing up of a situation, an outline of the state of the art. An overview and a point of departure. The story so far as they say – it remains to be seen what the future holds in store.
The jury, which will assign the Golden Snail award (plus a cash prize of 5,000 euros) to best film will be presided over by none other than Vincent Schiavelli, one of Hollywood’s most celebrated character actors, famous for his roles as crazy man Fredrickson in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Salieri’s valet in Amadeus, Bullet Bob in Blade Runner, the ghost of the subway in Ghost, Dr Kaufman in Tomorrow Dies, and many others still, besides being a cookery writer and enthusiast.
Schiavelli will be aided in the task by Panos Nicolau (a Hollywood TV and film producer), Alberto Capatti (food historian and editor of Slow), Stefania Barzini (RaiSat-Gambero Rosso, author of a forthcoming book on film and food), Giacomo Mojoli (vice-president of Slow Food) and Antonio Attorre (international governor of Slow Food).
For information (tickets, hotels, reservations, timetables etc):
CINEMA CORTO IN BRA FESTIVAL, UFFICIO TURISMO E MANIFESTAZIONI DEL COMUNE
Via Moffa di Lisio, 14/16 – 12042 BRA (CN) – ITALY
Tel. 0039-0172- 430185
Stefano Sardo is director Slow Food on Film
Adapted by John Irving