Saturday, November 08, 2008

Food Fight, the documentary

Filmaker Chris Taylor's new documentary, Food Fight, casts the inventors of California cuisine as captains of the revolutionary overthrow of the industrial food system.

The most fun comes when the film is least reverential to its champions, famous restauranteurs Alice Waters, Jeremiah Tower, and Wolfgang Puck, taking them down a peg. There is an amusing sequence where several interviewees find themselves at a loss for words trying to describe the towering ego that accompanied Towers' innovations in the kitchen of Alice Waters' Chez Panisse during the 1970s. One interview explains that the famous restaurant's wonderful daring could at times lead to failures in between its successes:
Most of the time it was excellent. Sometimes it was inedible. There was this episode with eel ...
Based on a DVD viewing, Bonnie at Ethicurean gives the film a fairly rough review. At times, I agree, it risked pretention. How did the filmakers catch the down-to-earth Grist editor and farmer Tom Philpott in a sentence where "de-contextualized" wasn't even the longest word? The interviews have Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle, who in real life always offer something new to think about, saying instead the same things they said in other documentaries, like King Corn. And of course King Corn had a more entertaining premise and more charming everyman protagonists in place of the now-prosperous chef heroes.

Still, I sure had fun at the film's North American premiere in Los Angeles this afternoon. I can imagine that the highly appreciative audience and after-movie question and answer period with the filmaker and several high-profile guests all contributed energy and excitement that might be missing from a DVD viewing. I almost didn't get let in to the full theater on Hollywood Boulevard (itself a fun flamboyant scene for a visitor from Boston!), arriving a couple minutes late from the APPAM meetings.

The movie has many other strengths. There is a particularly nice sequence with Will Allen and collaborators in Milwaukee. A compelling account of the 2008 Farm Bill included terrific good guy / bad guy interviews with Ron Kind (D-WI) who sought reform and Collin Peterson (D-MN) who defended the interests of low-cost industrial production.

Plus, nobody makes a movie like this to get rich. I can enjoy seeing King Corn, Fast Food Nation, Affluenza, Food Fight, and all the good movies by people who want to make a better world, without quibbling too much over the details.

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