Berlin sidebar gives something to chew on

Culinary Cinema has more than fine dining on its mind

More Berlinale coverage

BERLIN -- The third edition of the Culinary Cinema sidebar kicks off Sunday with a whole new concept. While the event still comprises a mouthwatering menu of gastro-themed movies, this one's spiced with more than a little food for thought.

Instead of the intimate evening screenings for about 180, followed by dinner, the opening film -- Robert Kenner's hard-hitting food industry expose "Food, Inc." -- will unspool at 3 p.m. in the 1,500-seat Freidrichstadtpalast.

In a year when the main competition jury includes restaurateur and food writer Alice Waters, the high-profile opening underlines the Berlinale's commitment to promoting links between the world of cinema and the good food movement.

"The subject of food is not only for gourmets, but it is also a political subject, which makes it perfect for the Berlinale," said Thomas Struck, organizer of Culinary Cinema. "I think food and how it is produced is hotter than ever, as you can see by the number of documentaries on the topic."

Struck admits the large-scale opening goes against the grain of Culinary Cinema, an otherwise intimate event, but said the idea is to give a bigger platform to "Food, Inc." The screening will be followed by a discussion featuring Kenner and authors Eric Schlosser ("Fast Food Nation") and Michael Pollan ("The Omnivore's Dilemma"), who also are featured in the documentary.

The sometimes unpalatable truths on display in "Food Inc." meant a shift away from the usual post-screening glitzy dinner. ("After this film it's very hard to eat," Struck concedes.) Instead, the assembled throng will be treated to a special bowl of vegetable stew prepared by Tim Raue, one of Berlin's most renowned chefs.

"It will be elegant but culinarily correct," Struck said. "Everyone will go home with something to chew on, in all senses. You know after a film like this why you want to eat better."

Beginning Monday evening, Culinary Cinema reverts to its familiar movie-and-dinner concept, with 7:30 p.m. screenings of food-themed films followed by a three-course meal prepared by some of Europe's finest chefs served in the sparkling surroundings of the Mirror Tent. The screenings will be in the same place as last year, the theater under the Martin Gropius Bau, but the tent has been relocated from behind the building to across the street. Dinner is followed by a second movie around 11 p.m.

Monday's early movie is Venice audience award winner "Mid-August Lunch" from Italian director Gianni Di Gregorio, which runs on a double bill with a meal from Luxembourg chef Lea Linster. This is followed by the later screening of "Antique," a gay-themed South Korean comedy set around a patisserie.

Tuesday features the world premiere of Spanish menage-a-trois comedy "Mediterranean Diet" by Joaquin Oristrell, which segues into dinner from Kolja Kleeberg of Berlin's hip VAU restaurant. This is followed by the bittersweet love story "Haiti Cherie" from Claudio del Punta.

On Wednesday, Bosnian helmer Aida Begic's tale of a war-torn village where only the women are left, "Snow," will be the main event, for which chef Hendrik Otto of Berlin's swank Vitrum restaurant will prepare a complementary repast. Ron Colby's film about an anti-whaling activist, "Pirate for the Sea," is the later screening.

Thursday is the turn of "Terra Madre" (Mother Earth), a documentary on the slow food movement from Italian veteran Ermanno Olmi, which will have its world premiere here as a Berlinale Special. Dinner, naturally, is Italian, with a pasta-themed spread from Hamburg-based Cornelia Poletto. The late show is Jean-Paul Jaud's documentary on children's role as eco-activists, "Our Children Will Accuse Us."

Staying with the kids theme, Friday will feature a children's screening of U.S. documentary "What's on Your Plate," directed by Catherine Gund, in conjunction with locals schools and a Berlin youth project.