Food and Politics Mix in Berlin's Culinary Cinema Lineup

The Heat Still 2 - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Hot Docs

Under the motto "A Taste for Balance," Berlin's food-focused sidebar draws links between food, culture and social welfare.

For the latest edition of its popular Culinary Cinema sidebar, the Berlin International Film Festival is mixing food, culture and politics. Under the motto “A Taste for Balance,” Berlin's section of food-focused features and documentaries looks to draw links between the culinary business and culture and the society that produces it.

The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution, a documentary from Canadian director Maya Gallus, which opens the Culinary Cinema sidebar Feb. 10, looks at a new generation of female chefs who are transforming the high-end cooking industry. Filmmaking farmer John Cester's doc, The Biggest Little Farm, looks at how he and his team transformed parched land in California into fertile soil. And in A God in Each Lentil, Spanish director Miguel Angel Jimenez explores the struggle for work/life balance through the story of the family-run Michelin-starred restaurant L'Escaleta.

Several of this year's titles are as focused on politics as cuisine. Mothers of the Land, from directors Alvaro and Diego Sarmiento, looks at women farmers in the highlands of Peru who struggle against climate change to adhere to their ancient culinary traditions. Ghost Fleet from American documentarians Shannon Service and Jeffrey Waldron follows Thai activists committed to freeing enslaved fishermen. And Marianna Economou's When Tomatoes Met Wagner explores the story of a Greek village, struck by the country's economic crisis, that has built up an organic tomato business, grown with the help of Richard Wagner’s classical music.

The 2019 Culinary Cinema selection includes two new episodes of Netflix's popular Chef's Table series — on British chef Asma Khan and Mashama Bailey from Savannah, Georgia — both of which will have their world premieres in Berlin.

“Keeping taste in balance is not just a good idea for a healthy diet, but also a recipe for maintaining democracy,” says Berlin festival director Dieter Kosslick, explaining this year's motto.

In addition to the documentary lineup, Culinary Cinema will present two feature films this year: Aruna & Her Palate from Indonesian director Edwin (Postcards From the Zoo), an adaptation of the novel by Laksmi Pamuntjak; and Kei Chikaura's Complicity, a drama about an illegal Chinese immigrant working in a soba restaurant in Japan.

As part of the Culinary Cinema program, following each gala premiere, top international chefs, including Angela Hartnett, Sebastian Frank, Kiko Moya and The Duc Ngo, will take turns preparing and serving menus inspired by the films in Berlin's Gropius Mirror Restaurant.

Here is the 2019 Culinary Cinema lineup:

Aruna & Her Palate, dir. Edwin (feature film)
The Biggest Little Farm, dir. John Chester (documentary)
Chef's Table - Asma Khan, dir. Zia Mandviwalla (documentary)
Chef's Table - Mashama Bailey, dir. Abigail Fuller (documentary)
Complicity, dir. Kei Chikaura (feature film)
Beloved, dir. Yaser Talebi (documentary)
Ghost Fleet, dir. Shannon Service, Jeffrey Waldron (documentary)
The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution, dir. Maya Gallus (documentary)
Wind Heritage, dir. Alejandra Retana, Cesar Camacho, Cesar Hernandez (documentary)
Mothers of the Land, dir. Alvaro Sarmiento, Diego Sarmiento (documentary)
When Tomatoes Met Wagner, dir. Marianna Economou (documentary)
A God in Each Lentil, dir. Miguel Angel Jimenez (documentary)