Alice Waters sinks her teeth into Berlinale

Jury member applauds fest's strong culinary stance

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BERLIN -- What is the recipe for a balanced film festival jury? Berlinale chief Dieter Kosslick this year decided American restaurateur and food writer Alice Waters would spice up the mix alongside the usual blend of filmmakers, actors and writers.

So what does Waters, who was once married to French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin, bring to the table? "Would that I could bring more to the table. I don't think that they have great expectations of me in terms of technically analyzing these films," said Waters, who made her name with Chez Panisse, the original "California cuisine" restaurant in Berkeley. "But I have been watching films my whole life. I watch a film every night to sort of decompress from the day. I care about films almost as much as I care about food. They both nourish me, physically and spiritually. They're both powerful ways to communicate and if you put the two together you could really have an explosions."

Waters is an outspoken advocate of local produce that respects the mantra of the Slow Food movement: good, clean and fair. She welcomes the strong position the Berlinale has taken on food issues through the movies screening in the Culinary Cinema sidebar and elsewhere in the festival, such as the documentaries "Food, Inc." and "Terra Madre," both of which expose different aspects of the corporate agri-business.

"I think it's so important that we educate our global population about food production, and the more films that expose the underside of globalized food and agri-business and manipulation, the more likely it will turn predisposed people to real food, to looking for it and paying for it. It's so important that we pay the real price for food," Waters said.

She cites the success of food-themed films such as "Darwin's Nightmare," the Austrian picture "Struggle" and "Our Daily Bread" as examples of movies that have made a difference. "They were shocking to me when I saw them, and I look at food differently because of them," she said. "I just saw 'The Price of Sugar' about plantations in the Dominican Republic -- I had no idea, it's slavery."

She dismisses the idea that eating healthy, equitable food is merely a luxury for the well heeled. "People seem to be able to buy television sets, cars, 10 pairs of Nike shoes, whatever. Generally, we decide every day what we're going to spend our money on. I don't think that we're really understanding the consequences of the decisions that we make about our food every day. When you understand that it really is about the way you live life and the values you hold, you think about the world in a different way and you think about those choices differently. I'm not telling people what to choose, I just want them to see, then you can make your choices."

Meanwhile, Waters has another wish during her time in Berlin. "I wish I could cook for the jurors," she said. "I've sort of planned it in my mind. I'm foraging, right now trying to think of a time when we could have one of our meetings at a lunch or dinner table."