Food has come to the foreground in cinema as of late. What started with films like Food Inc. and Fast Food Nation has evolved into entire festivals dedicated to the craft, like the recent New York and Chicago Food Film Fests. Although those festivals didn't travel to Los Angeles, the AFI Film Festival (Nov. 3-10) has plenty of culinary-related programming on the docket. The best part? There's no need to forge press passes or crash screenings; the AFI flicks are free.
Rather than being politically focused, the movies featured in the AFI Fest use food as a vehicle for creativity and storytelling. Consider it a new form of edible escapism that's gentler on your waistline than a Doritos binge.
Three food-focused short films will participate in AFI's Shorts series: Zergut, Mexican Cuisine and Dr. Breakfast. The full-length feature entitled Jiro Dreams of Sushi rounds out the festival's programming.
Zergut was created by two local filmmakers, Natasha Subramaniam and Alisa Lapidus. The duo is also responsible for the stunning stop-animation film Assiette, which displayed Jordan Kahn's croissant being transformed into a verdant edible garden. Zergut explores a food fight that takes place between the lonely forgotten foods in the back of the refrigerator and the fresh items in the front.
"We wanted to depict a rivalry between foods, plunging into the underworld of what exists in a fridge... showing the beauty of the overlooked, of things like mold. We like to think of it as a deep exploration of food, and it's significance in our lives," says Subramaniam.
Subramaniam, Lapidus and their director of photography, Oliver Fitzgerald, shot a painstaking 60-150 frames per second in Subramaniam's Hollywood home. One of the bigger challenges was maintaining continuity when working with organic objects in such a small, enclosed space. What was even more challenging, though, was dealing with the smells -- and getting housemates to empathize with them.
"The living room was completely turned into a dungeon of rotting food. There was a decapitated fridge, lighting rigs, and all these jars and bottles," says Subramaniam.
Ultimately, though, there's a smooth, ethereal lyricism to Zergut.
On the flip side, there's Dr. Breakfast, a twisted animated comedy that seems like it would fit on the roster at Spike and Mike's. Creator Stephen Neary has dabbled in food film before with creations like Come Have an Omlette with Me.
"I've always thought that food on film is just really pretty and enchanting. I love movies with food in them. I've always gravitated to it," Neary says.
The beauty in his short is more silly and subtle than in David Gelb's Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which documents the story of three-Michelin starred chef Jiro Ono.
Gelb was first introduced to the 85-year old Tokyo sushi chef by renown food writer Masahiro Yamamoto. He was inspired by the chef's dedication to his craft, and wanted to tell the story of Ono and his son, who will eventually take over his father's 10-seat omakase restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro.
"Every day he [Jiro] wakes up and does the exact same routine, but is always trying to find ways to do it slightly better... He knows that perfection is unattainable, but every time that he improves, he sees himself as changed," says Gilb. "We tried to apply that to our editing process as much as possible. We had to be wiling to throw things away that we were really attached to. "
When asked about his inspiration for the project, Gilb candidly replied, "I wanted to make a movie about sushi because I love sushi, and wanted to make it my job to eat it all the time." We're food writers. We can relate.
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Check out the full AFI schedule here, and make sure to reserve your tickets ASAP. Reservation lines opened Thursday, and free tickets will go fast.
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