Off the Menu: Cooking Up a Culinary Cinema Series at NB Film Festival

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More than 50 local restaurants are set to serve food during the 2019 Newport Beach Film Festival, and a presenting sponsor is Pacific Sales (a leader in kitchen and home products), so the foodie factor at the festival is high.

That’s why the Film Festival has brought back its popular Culinary Series, which last year was so well attended that the festival knew it had cooked up something popular.

From the Jaén region of Spain to Northern California’s wine country to the World Sommelier Competition in Argentina, this year’s Culinary program spotlights nine films that explore culinary themed stories created by emerging and seasoned documentary filmmakers.

According to Leslie Feibleman of the Newport Beach Film Festival, the culinary films go behind the scenes into bustling kitchens of renown restaurants, into villages, farms, groves, gardens, vineyards of today’s chefs, growers, vintners and distillers and farmworkers. The program reveals the intricacies of our food system with stories documenting the journey of our food from seed to farm to table and the people immersed in the process. The films depict the history of culinary traditions and capture the fascinating personal stories of these passionate innovators and reveal the challenges, triumphs and the vital ingredients essential to achieving success in the culinary industry.

I was able to view several of the culinary films in advance, which reminded me how fascinating and compelling a good documentary can be, even when it explores subject matters that might otherwise seem commonplace.

Chef’s Diaries: Scotland

Chef’s Diaries: Scotland / May 2

The Roca brothers, chefs and owners of the Michelin starred restaurant El Celler de Can Roca, located in the medieval city of Girona, Spain, decide to explore Scottish cooking to bring new creativity to the menu of their own restaurant. Together, they travel to various regions of Scotland to study their culture and cooking methods in order to properly pay tribute to an often-overlooked cuisine.

“In gastronomy there is science, arts, there is life.”

That quote from “Chef’s Diaries: Scotland” succinctly sums up the overall feeling of this wonderful documentary. With exquisite cinematography and beautiful closeups of chefs plating gorgeous cuisine as well as lush landscapes, the film delves into the fascinating and unsung world of Scottish gastronomy.

“There’s no doubt this experience will stay with us for many years” notes one of the chefs in the film. Audiences may feel the same way.

The Best Sommelier in the World

The Best Sommelier in the World / May 1

“There are more philosophy and wisdom in a bottle of wine than in all the books.” That quote from Louis Pasteur opens this insightful documentary and paves the way for what is to come.

At the World Sommelier Competition, contestants have three days to showcase an entire life devoted to perfecting their craft. Filmed in Argentina, we are introduced to the world of refined sommeliers, where there can be no other way to win than absolute dedication to detail and perfection.

The film defines a sommelier as “an ambassador of pleasure” and “a wizard of the impossible.” In fact, one sommelier in the film states that “to excite people through a liquid is the biggest virtue that a person could have.”

This film not only offers a glimpse of what it takes to become a sommelier (hundreds of hours of study and practice), it provides an appreciate for what a sommelier brings to the table.

Harvest Season (screens with the short The Last Harvest) / April 28 & May 1

From Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz, Harvest Season delves into the lives of people who work behind the scenes of the premium California wine industry, during one of the most dramatic grape harvests in recent memory. The film follows the stories of Mexican-American winemakers and migrant workers who are essential to the wine business, yet are rarely recognized for their contributions. Their stories unfold as wildfires ignite in Napa and Sonoma counties, threatening the livelihoods of small farmers and winemakers who are already grappling with a growing labor shortage, shifting immigration policies, and the impacts of a rapidly changing climate.

The visuals speak volumes about what it’s like to work the vineyards and the people who labor in them. The film also goes behind the scenes and delves into the process of making fine wines. Surprisingly emotional and compelling, “Harvest Season” will make you appreciate every sip of wine you take.

Funke

Funke / April 29 & May 2

When Evan Funke, a prodigious chef, inexplicably walks away from his highly-successful and critically-acclaimed restaurant, his life and career are thrust into a dark vortex. Years later, Evan mounts his culinary comeback, eyeing the most competitive street in America as a stage for his restaurant ode to the dying art of handmade pasta.

“I want to create the most comprehensive pasta program in the United States,” says Funke in this highly entertaining documentary.  “With my hands I can make 188 of the 365 documented shapes” of pasta. “Passion is not the word. I am maniacal about pasta.”

Funke has “great skill and great heart,” says Executive Chef Lee Hefter of Spago Beverly Hills, where Chef Funke once worked. Those attributes are on full display in “Funke,” which follows Funke’s challenges in opening his restaurant, Felix, in Los Angeles.

The film is full of passion in its observations of the intricacies – and the nitty-gritty – of Funke’s colorful world of pasta.

Other films in the Culinary series:

Virgin & Extra: The Land Of Olive Oil / April 30

Olive oil is not just a superfood; in the region of Jaen, it also represents a way of life. Follow along as we see the importance of its history, its people’s work and the extraordinary enterprise of a group of local businessmen seeking to produce one of the best olive oils in the world from Picual olives.

Chef Tyler Florence in “Uncrushable”

Uncrushable / April 28 & 29

Late in the evening on October 8th, 2017, a series of wildfires ignited Northern California’s beloved wine country. Hear the story of the fires through the eyes of those most affected in the area. Victims who lost homes or businesses, first responders, chefs and winemakers share their harrowing accounts, as a fallen community begins to rebuild through the amazing help of its neighbors, chefs and friends.

Tin City / April 26 & 30

Deep within the Paso Robles wine country lies a dedicated community of winemakers, brew and cider masters, and distillers who are working together to make history. These people are the bootstrap entrepreneurs who, despite not having every resource available, are doing what they love. Through blood, sweat and tears, they are building edgy and creative wine, beer and spirits brands.

The Biggest Little Farm / April 28

Evicted from their small Los Angeles apartment, ambitious dreamers John and Molly ditch their urban life and embark on a journey to develop a 200-acre farmland filled with diverse animals, crops, and plants living in harmony. However, their attempt to establish a utopia faces several complications, exposing John and Molly to valuable lessons about the deep complexities of nature as they realize they must understand these intricacies in order to survive.

For passes, tickets and information about the Newport Beach Film Festival visit NewportBeachFilmFest.com.

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