Culinary Cinema dishes up second course

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BERLIN -- Eat, drink and see movies may sound like the perfect night out, and that is exactly what the Berlinale has laid on with its Culinary Cinema section, which starts its five-night run Monday.

The program was instigated last year and is being served up again along the same lines. The Martin-Gropius-Bau theater screens a 7:30 p.m. movie with a food-related theme -- anything from fine dining to the ravages of irresponsible food production on the environment. Then participants move on to a dinner prepared by some of Europe's top chefs and inspired by that night's film, served in the sparkling splendor of the Mirror Tent just behind the market building. And since no meal would be complete without good conversation, a strong lineup of diverse culinary authorities has been assembled for after-dinner discussions on gastro topics. Each evening will be rounded out with a second screening.

The idea is to demonstrate that the link between movies and meals can add up to more than a combo-deal for a seat in the multiplex and a McDonald's. "That's what we try to turn around," says Thomas Struck, organizer of the sidebar. "The basic difference with us is that you see the movie first and then you get the food, like in the old days."

Each evening can host around 180 attendees, and tickets for film, dinner and debate cost 49 euros. "We keep places in reserve for people in the industry who ask for them," Struck said. "They tend to drop by after hours. When the night's program is over at 11 p.m., the bar is open for everyone from the festival," added Struck, who recalls spending happy moments last year sharing a drink with Natalie Portman at what he describes as the Berlinale's "secret watering hole."

The Berlinale's basic concept of the connection between film and food was developed during the Talent Campus in 2004, which held a short film competition for participants to produce films on the subject of taste, food and hunger. From there, it was decided to do something separate from the Talent Campus, with its mainly under-30s demographic. "You start to develop your consideration for health and taste and food a little bit later in life," Struck said.

Struck sees the development of man's civilization as a continuum from the taming of fire to produce the first cooked meals, right up to the sophistication of the filmmaking process. "The movie exists because of the camera, the camera would not exist if there wasn't a focus, and focus is the Latin word for hearth. It's from focus to focus -- that's the big arc. We try to give inspiration to people, so they pay more attention to food as a form of art and also pay attention to the movie as a means of communication."

The sidebar has laid on a rich menu of thought-provoking films. The program kicks off with a screening of Luis Bunuel's surrealist masterpiece centered on failed dining experiences, "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie," followed by a dinner of anglerfish prepared by chef Bobby Brauer of Berlin's Restaurant Quadriga.

The debate program opens with a big bang on Monday, when Ferran Adria, head chef of Catalonian establishment El Bulli, renowned as the best restaurant in the world, will discuss food issues with Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food movement.

"Adria is an extraordinary person who took cooking to a totally different realm," Struck said. "He's really an artist of cooking. But this is edible art so it must taste really good. We put him together with Carlo Petrini who stands for natural food. He's a figurehead for the original natural taste of produce, with the Slow Food principles of good clean fare, clean in production, and fair in price for all sides."

On Tuesday, the sidebar screens "A Table in Heaven," Andrew Rossi's film about the man behind the famed New York eatery Le Cirque. This year's line-up features more documentaries than the previous edition. "And some you wouldn't like to eat after watching," Struck warns. Notably "Sharkwater," Rob Stewart's high-seas adventure looking at how the lucrative trade in shark fins for Asian tables has driven the marine predator to the brink of extinction. "We have an expert who's going to be explaining all this," Struck said. "It shows the irresponsible way of dealing with our resources."

Another cutting-edge culinary caper comes in the form of "Cooking in the Danger Zone," a BBC series in which food writer Stefan Gates explores food stories in some of the world's hottest hot-spots, including a tour of Afghanistan and a trip inside the exclusion zone at Chernobyl.

On Thursday's menu is "Estomago," a Brazilian/Italian black comedy about a cook working his way up from a Brazilian fast food joint to a top Italian restaurant via a detour in jail. "At the end of the film, they serve a suckling pig in jail -- so we're serving it as well," Struck said.

Two of the late evening screenings feature films dedicated respectively to Adria and Petrini. On Tuesday, it's David Pujoi's film about Adria's establishment, "El Bulli: Story of a Dream;" and on Wednesday screens "A Day in Eataly," a look at how contemporary Italian food is produced directed by students at the University of Gastronomic Science, northern Italy.

Culinary Cinema features a special event Friday when the sidebar's organizer of gastronomic events, Martin Scharff, will cook ratatouille with and for children from a Berlin-Kreuzberg youth project, followed by a screening of the Pixar movie named after the dish. "We do this event in order to support better food in schools," Struck said. "It's very important to start with the children, so they don't lose their sense of taste."

Culinary Cinema program:

Monday: 7:30 p.m., "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" from Luis Bunuel (France, 1972); chef: Bobby Brauer, Restaurant Quadriga (Hotel Brandenburger Hof); "Eat and Run" from Mamuro Oshii (Japan, 2006).

Tuesday: "A Table in Heaven" from Andrew Rossi (U.S., 2007); chef: Cornelia Poletto, Restaurant Poletto (Hamburg); 10 p.m., "El Bulli: Story of a Dream" from David Pujoi (Spain, 2008).

Wednesday: "Cooking in the Danger Zone" from Mark Perkins (U.K., 2007); chef: Thomas Kellermann, Restaurant Vitrum (Ritz Carlton Hotel, Berlin); 10 p.m., "A Day in Eataly" directed by students at the University of Gastronomic Science (Italy, 2007).

Thursday: "Estomago" from Marcos Jorge (Brazil/Italy 2007); chef: Kolja Kleeburg, Berlin's Restaurant Vau; 10 p.m., "Sharkwater" from Rob Stewart (Canada, 2006).

Friday: Midday, "Ratatouille" from Brad Bird; 7:30 p.m., "The Chicken, the Fish and the King Crab" from Jose Luis Lopez-Linares; chef: Jesus Almagro (Pedro Larumbe Restaurant, Madrid); 10 p.m. "Global Mobile: Food," an anthology of eight films from international cineastes made for mobiles.
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