Culinary Cinema: SIFF 2015 offers films for food lovers

"Little Forest" is a two-film series that is part of the Seattle International Film Festival's food film offerings. (Photo courtesy SIFF.)
“Little Forest” is a two-film series that is part of the Seattle International Film Festival’s food film offerings. (Photo courtesy SIFF.)

It’s SIFF, which means if you want to spend three weeks seeing Danish horror films, watch steak marbling for 90 minutes on the big screen, or just hang out in the Harvard Exit looking for ghosts one last time, you’re in luck.

This year, SIFF is also a place where the food-obsessed (like me) can really let loose.

With its Culinary Cinema program, SIFF rolled out 11 films for foodies, including seven international films. Even the U.S. films tell distinctly global stories — “King Georges” documents a classic French restaurant in Philadelphia struggling against the forces of change, and “The Birth of Saké” follows the ancient process behind Japanese rice wine.

Though food and wine movies are not new to SIFF, this year the festival introduced six “dinner and a movie” events and seven guest appearances at screenings.

Celebrity appearances aren’t just for actors and directors anymore. Festival-goers got to schmooze with chefs like “Top Chef” winner Nicholas Elmi at local restaurants like Poppy and Manhattan.

The highlight of the program was the already-screened “Little Forest” from Japan. It’s a dream-like two-part film that follows Ichiko, a young woman who returns to her family home in a fictional village to farm in solitude after a breakup with her city boyfriend. The series takes us from ripe summer to austere winter, and we watch Ichiko weather the seasons growing food and prepare painstakingly long, traditional meals from scratch.

“Little Forest” is less like watching a movie and more like reading a cookbook in a dream after a tall glass of wine. And in an American culture that has deified Japanese cuisine for its sushi and ramen, “Little Forest” is a gorgeous and real glimpse into the complex tradition of agrarian Japan, without being too precious.

There are still many culinary films screening at this year’s SIFF, covering topics from the mental health toll of celebrity chefdom, to the brain chemistry of sugar.

Here are my picks for remaining films from the Culinary Cinema program in this year’s festival:

Steak (Re)volution, FRANCE
"Steak (Re)volution" documents the practices of the top beef producers in the world. (Photo courtesy SIFF.)
“Steak (Re)volution” documents the practices of the top beef producers in the world. (Photo courtesy SIFF.)

“If you can’t see how your steak was made, then you probably shouldn’t eat it.”

I don’t know who said that, but I’ve been told this by enough vegetarians to consider it public wisdom. And if you’re looking for a litmus test to ethically prove your carnivorous authenticity, then this is your film. With the French as longtime pioneers of sustainable farming and food practices, “Steak (Re)volution” delicately presents the complexity of modern butchery, agriculture, and meat-based cuisine. I prefer this version of the story to how I imagine the American version of “Steak (Re)volution” might have gone—focusing on a dude ranch in Texas. This unapologetically foodie story beautifully displays and doesn’t distract from it’s underpaid star: steak.

Festival Screenings:
Monday, May 25 | Pacific Place | 1:15 p.m.
Tuesday, May 26 | Harvard Exit | 7 p.m.

Dinner and a Movie: May 26 | 7 p.m. | Film: Harvard Exit | Dinner: Manhattan steakhouse on Capitol Hill | Tickets: $125 | Includes film screening, chef’s menu, wine, tax, and gratuity. Seating is limited to 22.

The Birth of Saké, USA
The Birth of Sake" focuses on Yoshida Brewery, where the ancient, almost ritualistic process of brewing sake remains the same after 2,000 years. Photo courtesy SIFF.
The Birth of Sake” focuses on Yoshida Brewery, where the ancient, almost ritualistic process of brewing sake remains the same after 2,000 years. (Photo courtesy SIFF.)

Director Erik Shirai, who was a cinematographer for The Travel Channel’s “No Reservations” with Anthony Bourdain, brings us a view into the elusive world of traditional saké-making. In a society where you can get ordained as a priest online, most complex processes have been simplified, digitalized, streamlined, mechanized, or simply erased. The documentary focuses on Yoshida Brewery, the last place where the ancient, almost ritualistic process of brewing saké has remained very much the same for 2,000 years. The brewers leave their families and live together in order to tend to the alcohol 24/7. You’ll never think of saké-bombs the same way.

Festival Screenings:
Wednesday, May 27 | SIFF Cinema Uptown | 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, May 28 | Pacific Place | 4:00 p.m.

That Sugar Film, AUSTRALIA
Filmmaker Damon Gameau explores an "addiction" to sugar in "That Sugar Film." Photo courtesy SIFF.
Filmmaker Damon Gameau explores the science of sugar in “That Sugar Film.” (Photo courtesy SIFF.)

That Sugar Film is described as “one man’s journey to discover the bitter truth about sugar.” Though the entire premise is kind of a bummer, Damon Gameau lays it out in this funny, approachable documentary. Attempting to demystify the “health food” industry that is secretly laden with bad-for-you ingredients, Gameau is like a drug addict in recovery chronicling the journey we’ve all been on. The film also covers the push for healthy eating in schools, which is nice for Michelle Obama. Also, if you live in Seattle, you may already know all of this as you watch the film self-satisfied, stevia-latte in hand.

Festival Screenings:
Monday, June 1 | SIFF Cinema Uptown | 6 p.m.
Wednesday, June 3 | SIFF Cinema Uptown | 3:30 p.m.

Cooking Up a Tribute, SPAIN
In "Cooking up a Tribute," two chef brothers travel the world to invent new dishes to take back to their restaurant in Spain. (Photo courtesy SIFF.)
In “Cooking up a Tribute,” two chef brothers travel the world to invent new dishes to take back to their restaurant in Spain. (Photo courtesy SIFF.)

Mostly, everyone should go see this movie because it’s playing in the now-closed Harvard Exit. Just go one last time. It doesn’t even matter what you see.

That said, the film stars the Rocha brothers, Spanish restaurateurs who quit their jobs for five weeks to tour the world and design 57 new dishes from across the globe to bring back to their menus. The pace and variety of cookery in this film will please any “Top Chef” lovers.

Festival Screenings:
Tuesday, June 2 | Harvard Exit | 7 p.m.
Thursday, June 4 | Harvard Exit | 4:15 p.m.

Sergio Herman, F*cking Perfect, NETHERLANDS
"Sergio Herman: F*cking Perfect" focuses the intense life and passion behind one restaurant owner. Photo courtesy SIFF.
“Sergio Herman: F*cking Perfect” focuses the intense life and passion of a chef as he closes his family’s three-Michelin star restaurant in pursuit of a different culinary vision. (Photo courtesy SIFF.)

This film focuses more on the lives behind professionals, rather than the food itself. In the era of celebrity chefs, “F*cking Perfect” captures the culture of perfectionism, masculinity, passion and control that rule the world of restaurant-ownership. The super-16mm close-up shots of food are arresting alongside the downfall of the subject’s personal life as he powers through his career. Anyone with a Nordic food fetish ought to see this film.

Festival Screenings:
Saturday, June 6 | Pacific Place | 9:30 p.m.
Sunday, June 7 | SIFF Cinema Uptown 3 | 11:30 a.m.

 

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