Culinary sidebar serves up tasty movie treats

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The most typical date in the world is dinner and a movie. But with "Culinary Cinema: Eat, Drink, See Movies," this year's Berlin International Film Festival has taken the traditional date to an entirely new level.

The movies will all revolve around food. The dinners will be cooked by top-ranked chefs, and will be directly inspired by the films. And the filmmakers will be present for a round of conversation with the audience, moderated by one of Germany's most popular talkshow hosts, Alfred Biolek -- who also happens to wield a pretty mean spatula himself.

"Fire was the first expression of human civilization," said "Culinary Cinema" sidebar organizer Thomas Struck, "and cinema is the latest. The very word 'focus' comes from a Latin root meaning 'fireplace' or 'hearth.' To us, each evening is a unified work of art."

The evenings begin with a main film or films at 7:30, followed by the dinner and a chat with Biolek and film participants, and end with a second film at 10 p.m.

Sarah Wiener is a Viennese-born chef who runs three restaurants in Berlin. A half-hour documentary about her culinary adventures in France will screen on Feb. 14 along with "The Chicken, the Fish & the King Crab," a work-in-progress by Jose Luis Lopez-Linares of Spain, and a Japanese comedy, "Purukogi/Bulgogi" (Red Meat Or Innards?) by Su-yeon Gu.

Michelin starred chef Kolja Kleeberg will cook an Andalusian meal.

"Everybody has to eat -- that's how life begins," Wiener said. "And everyone has his own opinion about food. That's what makes this such a worthy effort and also so democratic."

Wiener says she's looking forward to seeing the other two films, because they are so different both from each other and from hers. "And I'm all agog about Kolja Kleeberg's meal," she said. "He's a true expert, and I've never had the dishes he's cooking that evening."

The concept behind the sidebar was worked out by Otto Geisel, the German head of "Slow Food," a non-profit international organization founded in 1989 and dedicated to sustainable production and fair trade as well as taste. Geisel was recently ranked "best restaurateur in Germany" by Gault Millau.

"Slow Food is, in a sense, our message," organizer Struck said. "The Berlinale has a lot of interest in small productions. We know that there's a big film industry out there, but it will go on without us, so we want to support the other side. That's true of food as well. Slow food is better for the environment. It tastes better, and it's better for the human stomach."

Both Struck and Wiener said in separate interviews that they hoped the sidebar would become a permanent part of the festival.

"As a cook myself," Wiener said, "I've never experienced anything like this in terms of quality, both in the food and in the films."

"There are always good and bad years for new food films," says Struck. "But the most important thing is to think of new ways to connect the oldest medium of civilization and the newest."

"Culinary Cinema" started Sunday and runs through Thursday at the Gropius Mirror tent and the Martin-Gropius-Bau. There will be an additional event on Friday on the topic of school lunches. Tickets are available at all Berlinale outlets.

The schedule, and the chef du jour, for the rest of the event includes:

Today: 7:30 p.m., "The Real Dirt on Farmer John" from Taggart Siegel (USA 2005); Chef: Bobby Brauer (Brandenburger Hof) smoked Thanksgiving turkey; 10 p.m., "Black Gold" from Marc Francio/ Nick Francio (U.K. 2006)

Tuesday: 7:30 p.m., "How to Cook Your Life" from Doris Dorrie (Germany 2006); Chef: Thomas Kammeier (Hugos) saffron barley with sweet potatoes and vegetables; 10 p.m. "Slow Food on Short Films" from Carlo Petrini.

Wednesday: 7:30 p.m., "The Chicken, The Fish & The King Crab" from Jose Luis Lopez-Linares (Spain 2007); Chef: Kolja Kleeberg (VAU) "Andalusian Dog"; 10 p.m. "Za Yakiniku Mubi: Purukogi/ Bulgogi" from Su-yeon Gu (Japan 2006)

Thursday: 7:30, "Sideways" from Alexander Payne (USA 2004); Chef: Tim Raue (Restaurant 44) Ox cheeks in Chardonnay; 10 p.m., "All in this Tea" from Les Blank/Gina Leibrecht (USA 2007) Friday: 9 a.m., "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" from Tim Burton (USA 2006); 11:30 a.m., "Fast Food Nation" from Richard Linklater (USA 2006); Chef: 1 p.m., "McWitz" tasting with Stefan Marquard
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