Two years on from its inception, the Corto in Bra short film festival returns to Piedmont, with Slow Food on Film, a gastronomic festival-within-a-festival, celebrating the marriage between food and short films. The idea behind this unique collection of films is to reveal the cultural component of food and nutrition through the freest, boldest and most experimental genre of all: the short. Food is a universal theme which, more than others, represents our identity as people and individuals. How much does what we eat from our plates reveal about us?
Shorts, which conventionally last less than 30 minutes, are all about newcomers, experimentation, research, tight budgets , total freedom from production constraints, the box office and hesitant backers. This is why, far more than full-length features, they manage to handle food in surprising, fresh, irreverent, rich and ‘appetizing’ ways. This is also why the festival immediately garnered great interest from both the media and the public at its debut in 2002.
Then 21 shorts from nine countries were shown; this year the winner of the Golden Snail award and the cash prize of 5,000 euros will be chosen from 33 from 16 different countries. The all-encompassing theme of food is addressed in the most varied of ways. There is food as a family rite, which brings parents and children together round the table, stirring up or resolving conflicts: from the oysters on the shoreline in the New Zealand Rockpool, to the painful impromptu picnic of the German Im Sommer, the grandfather-grandchild head-to-head in Tunanooda, the sardonic birthday dinner of the Italian Un desiderio inconfessabile, the threatening, most Irish of silences of Sunday and the ritual of stormy family meals in the Israeli Marak Off.
Then come food as consolation, with tortellini subsuming the pain of a loss in Crapa Pansa, and food as a gesture, as seen in the little rich girl giving a sweetmeat to a tramp in Confection. There’s also food as a challenge, as in the fabulous tart tournament in Easy as Pie (USA), the seduction from afar in Punti di Vista (Italy), the rush against time in Last Mango in Dublin (Ireland again) and the culinary contest of De la tête aux pieds, in which eight French cooks have to compete for the pleasure of a Nazi officer.
Then there’s passion: food as an object of desire in Pork Chop from Hong Kong, in which the female protagonist is turned on by pork chops, and food as an instrument of desire, embodied by the arrival of a new sous-chef in the kitchen in Cookin’; in the restaurant that gives the title to the Canadian Chez Amore; in the fast food outlet of the Dutch Joy Meal, by Mathijs Geijskes, where a meal is the equivalent of remote sexual intercourse; and in the pathological relationship between benefactor and pupil in Gourmet Baby (Singapore/USA), a gastronomically-slanted reworking of Lolita.
Then we have food as the mirror of feelings: in a Swiss film the Soufflè of the title grows like a relationship, coffee becomes bitter in the Belgian Koffie, fish is the symbol of the lack of ability of father and son to communicate in Fishtale from Ireland. On the other hand it is food itself that plays the leading role in the Spanish Desaliñada, a love story between a salad and a cod, and the Brazilian horror cartoon A Lasanha Assassina. There is more animation in the visionary Eat by Bill Plympton (USA), which sees food as the liberation of the unconscious. Food is a gamefor the bungling God in the Irish God’s Kitchen by Paki Smith. The nightmare of diets is made fun of in Idole Mio (Germany), another animated film, and in Tunanooda (USA) which recounts tales told by a grandfather to his grandson. Food as alienation is that of the forced smiles of employees in a fast food chain ( Sei quello che mangi, Italy) while it is the school of life for the teacher-chef of Poulet cocotte (France).
There is food as nature in Alles Biologish, a sneer at the ‘social message’, and in the ill-doings of genetically modified seeds in Heterogenic (Italy). Plus there’s food as social observation in the Chinese restaurant of De Chinese Muur (The Netherlands) and food as blackmail in the Irish orphanage of The Breakfast. Finally we have food as salvation in the tender South African apologue, Black Sushi, which recounts how a black ex-prisoner redeems himself by becoming a sous-chef in a Japanese restaurant, and food as death, or at least as a last wish, in the German Crevetten.
Encouraged by the enthusiasm engendered at Slow Food on Film in 2002, this time round we have decided to launch a new competition for documentaries, Slow Food on Film DOC. 13 films from eight countries will compete for the Golden Snail award and a cash prize of 2,500 euros. The theme is the memory of food: meaning that filmmakers have to use an audiovisual account of no longer than 30 minutes to conjure up the memory of an old recipe, a rare agricultural product at risk of extinction or a food tradition that is dying out. The aim is to create an international archive of stories about the knowledge of taste for the new University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, near Bra, and thereby preserve a slice of our identity that is slipping away.
We go from Doitchlanda by Giuseppe Gagliari which recounts, though a mini-tour of the rock group, Il Parto delle Nuvole Pesanti, the militant ‘Calabrian-ness’ of the Italian emigrant restaurateurs in Germany, to Yum! Yum! Yum!, an urgent, sizzling exploration of the authentic Cajun Creole cooking of Louisiana. From the Serbian-Montenegran Dazd Nam Dnes (‘Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread’), which illustrates the tradition of its extremely elaborate liturgical breads, we move to Nalan Tie, which re-evokes the Finnish famine, one of the harshest of the 19th century. There’s the fascinating Chilean tradition of curanto, cooking ‘under the stones’, in Piedras Calientes, and the story of Bill Best, a Kentucky farmer who, from sheer passion, set up a natural seed bank, in Saving Seeds. Then there is a fascinating testimony à la Flaherty, Voci della montagna, which (literally) follows the creation of a Sardinian pecorino cheese from the sheep being milked to its being set in its mold, while the politics of the water emergency in Burkina Faso is retold in L’acqua che non c’è. We remain in Africa for The Blue Algae of The Desert, about alga spirulina, a product at risk extinction, before moving to Japan to see food as a daily rite in La Zucca di Masu, and back to Italy for a memory of war in La Zuppa di Zio Luigi e altre ricette. Finally, food tradition is seen as redemption of identity in La Pitta, and comparison between civilizations in Our Food (Egypt).
In short, we’re going to serve another full plateful of Food on Film. We have done our best to prepare the best of menus. At this point, all we can hope for is a full house and good service.
Stefano Sardo is artistic director of Slow Food on Film
Adapted by Maureen Ashley