Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Join Us at the (Southern) Table; Avoid Steroids (Cinetopia)

Local Folk: Who checked out Cinetopia? I had grand plans to become an obsessive film buff for the weekend -- even called into WEMU repeatedly to snag a free pass (to no avail, naturally), but only attended two screenings. Nevertheless, I was and am excited about it and hope that our dear ole Russ Collins will bring the festival back next year. And when he does, he will bring back the food documentaries. Not a foodie? Move along to section:Q (it's short).

Section A: If you are a foodie, you are in the right place. And you would have been in the right place, were you seated in the Angell Hall Auditorium on Saturday around 5, to check out "Southern Food Smorgasbord."

Possibly you were even near my small but festive group, where Compatriot had just given me the best birthday card ever, fashioned like a report card we (and maybe you, if you are of a certain age) grew up with. Compatriot being Compatriot, she gave me such a thing and granted me a mix of As and Bs; and me being me, I poured over it, giddy with each joke A and furrowing my brow over the comment numbers. It grieved me to get several Bs, but really who can trust glowing assessments without anything to work on?? My As included but were not limited to: insight into complexity, sense of humor, plastic surgery evasion and storytelling vigor. I quibbled over a B for longevity of friendship, at which point the Fixer looked outraged and vigorously pointed at herself, "Hey!! *I'm* the A! I'm the A!!" Which obviously I had to concede, as they have been friends for like a decade longer.  Number five, which translated into "follows rules" was mysteriously linked to sense of humor. "Oh," said Comp, "I just wanted to work some of those comments in there." Luckily my hygiene and citizenship were satisfactory. The flip side said: "It is a pleasure to have M in class." Hahahaha, this one's going up on the fridge.

But wait! We were in the auditorium! Yes, that is correct. We still are. People are settling in. Ari Weinzweig from Zingerman's has arrived and is sharing the non-stage with Amanda Bynam (Mich theater) and food documentarian Joe York. Ari had arrived from a long day at Camp Bacon (not kidding, people who do not know of the Zingerman's, or of Ari's published book on bacon), where one of the other film subjects, Allan Benton had also presided. Ari seemed tired. In his opening remarks he mentioned that phenomena where you grow used to whatever smell you're immersed in and it only becomes noticeable after you have the left the area. Having basically done everything with bacon that day, short of rolling around in it, he was, at this point, walking inside a floating bacon cloud. He often manages to be  simultaneously humorous, hunger-inducing, promotional.

"Snacks, where are the snacks?" Compatriot wondered. "Ari's usually good with snacks."

Fixer (95% vegetarian): "If he walks past us, I'm gonna lick his arm."

Compatriot: "I'm gonna wring out his shirt."

I readied myself to watch this pan out, but none of the above happened. Instead they started up the films. Now, while I am a self-identified foodie, most others in the tribe could put me to shame. I love food, I love the sensuality of it, the satisfaction, the wonder of being surprised by new flavors, the fact that this fills a need, but can be so much more, and also, like almost anything if you care to pay attention-- tells wonderful stories. At their best, these short documentaries -- honing in on the creating of one certain dish, or growing/harvesting one kind of food -- shine lights into the originating communities. At the least of the best, they are fun and highlight some quirky, enjoyable personalities. Before going, I didn't know a lick about the Southern Food Alliance or Joe York, who Garden and Gun (again: who knew? never heard of it) calls "the Ken Burns of Southern Food." I highly encourage a visit to that last link, which gives a nice peek into York's film making process and pretty much makes me want to watch all of his films.

I think we maybe saw six selections? But it's your lucky day: the Southern Food Alliance allows you to watch almost 40 of his works, right here! It is meat heavy, so there's that -- meat disclaimer aside, get ready to salivate. I'd say average time -- maybe 13 minutes.

In case that's overwhelming and you'd like to just start with a few:
  • "To Live and Die in Avoyelle Parish" gives a nice sense of food-as-part-of-community/identity (butchering)
  • "Phat Tai" chronicles Vietnamese fisherman in American (also in the wake of Hurricane Katrina)
  • "Cured"'s Tennessee-based country ham creator Allen Benton conveys his devotion to an independent, Appalachian way of life (as well as devotion to one's craft). 
  • Meanwhile,
  • Endearing dairy farmer Earl Cruze contends that widespread buttermilk consumption could put viagra out of business in "Buttermilk: It Can Help." While I try not to eat too much dairy, I love the tang of buttermilk and periodically revisit the "Eat Me Quick Buttermilk Custard Pie" from The Artful Pie; also love me some Indian buttermilk drinks with minced serrano, cumin, scallions, black pepper. Ohhh, it hurts...and it soothes!....ahhh. 
A *most* enjoyable screening, which happily segue-wayed into dinner at the Raven's Club. Life is hard!

Section: Q
The midnight screening of Bullhead ventured into the cattle trade, but gave viewers entry into an entirely different world. I hadn't seen the trailer, only read the Cinetopia blurb about it, which gave me the expectation that I was going to see a taut crime movie* (Belgian, set in the meat industry, dovetailing with the mafia). It is and it isn't. It's about many layers of brutality, and (maybe) how the brutality of one's profession inures one to empathy in other arenas/ how it potentially all bleeds together (sorry). It's about a man falling apart. It was extremely well done and also one I would only recommend to the heartiest** of film-goers amongst my friends...

*To be fair, I may not have read it closely enough. Haven't revisited.

**As in" Do you like harsh? No, but really, because I have a high harshness threshold. Don't expect many rays of hope here...

Happily, I write from a much calmer world than the most recent film-world I visited. And in this world, it's time to go to bed. Happy Tuesday, All. See more movies and tell me about 'em!

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