Culinary Cinema At The 66th Berlinale: Films For Food Enthusiasts

Harriet Blackmore

With the 66th Berlinale starting in February, we take a look at one of the special presentations – Culinary Cinema – and its offerings. Now in its 10th year, Culinary Cinema is a program started by Thomas Stuck in 2006 as a tribute to gastronomy and an attempt to share that enthusiasm and consciousness of food with festival-goers. From documentaries about pioneering, innovative Michelin-star restaurants to Hans Richter’s 1928 short film Ghosts Before Breakfast, Culinary Cinema provides an enriching selection of films to engage with and appreciate food from the source to the plate.


Wanton Mee | © Zhao Wei Films

Eric Khoo’s Wanton Mee | © Zhao Wei Films

Every year, Culinary Cinema presents around 12 films new and old – documentaries, short films, and features – that focus on food, after which there are meals inspired by the films presented by top chefs from around the world. Meals prepared in the past include those by renowned chefs such as Andoni Luis Aduriz, Sonja Frühsammer, Michael Hoffmann, and Tohru Nakamura. In addition to the film screenings, the program also includes presentations, discussions, and a Slow street food market in cooperation with Markthalle Neun, giving another dimension to the ideas put forward in the films.

Ron Finley gave a TED talk in 2013 about creating opportunities and engaging ways of getting children involved in growing their own food, arguing that ‘if a kid grows kale, a kid eats kale.’ And in that respect, a program educating people about the food they consume is a vital step, and in part this comes from an enjoyment and appreciation of the foods we consume. With certain foods being cheaper and more accessible, but not necessarily healthy, it is has become easy for food to become a passive part of our lives, thinking less about the repercussions on our health and the environment, or not having access to healthy food.


Alex Gibney’s Netflix series Cooked. Still from episode – Fire | © Netflix, 2016

With a rising interest in representing food in film, whether that is in the interaction with the food we eat, where or how it is cultivated, or to the final art of how these ingredients will be constructed, Culinary Cinema is a platform to specifically showcase films exploring our relationship with food. Culinary Cinema creates a space to reflect on the decisions and rituals around food happening the world over, differing person to person, let alone continent to continent.

In its nature, Culinary Cinema is celebrating food and the processes around it, and paying more attention to how and what we eat; this is clear in the selection of films, which responds to a growing interest in conscious eating, as well as a growing demand for education about these industries. Culinary Cinema works in partnership with the International Slow Food Movement, whose philosophy of ‘good, clean and fair’ is echoed by the program. Slow Food is an initiative towards giving more time and thought to the meals we consume, where they come from, and how we consume them. Culinary Cinema takes this idea further in carving out a section of the Berlinale program to pay attention to this.

Gina Abatemarco's Kivalina © Kivalina Project LLC

Gina Abatemarco’s Kivalina © Kivalina Project LLC

In the past, the Culinary Cinema has shown films from Food, Inc. (USA, 2009) a documentary focusing on the power of the corporations behind the food industry, to Chef’s Tablea Netflix series documenting the work of individual chefs and their restaurants. With a spectrum of angles put forward by the program, Stuck appeals to many different perspectives on food, whether that is with an environmental consciousness or that of a culinary connoisseur.

With a growing awareness of the detrimental effects of the food industry, and a push for changing how and what we eat, a program like Culinary Cinema is more important than ever, to both incite change and new attitudes, and celebrate the feats of gastronomical world.

We present a selection of the Culinary Cinema program listings at this year’s Berlinale:

Noma – My Perfect Storm (GBR/DNK/ESP 2015) Dir. Pierre Deschamps

A follow-up to the 2010 documentary about the world renowned chef René Redzepi and his restaurant Noma. After being voted the world’s number one restaurant by Britain’s Restaurant Magazine in 2010, 2011 2012 and 2014, the documentary follows Redzepi’s return to the top as a modern chef revolutionizing the world of gastronomy.


Café Nagler, (ISR/DEU 2015) Dir. Mor Kaplansky and Yariv Barel

The director explores Berlin with her grandmother, in search of a notorious 1920s café that her family used to own. Speaking to the locals of the time, the two discover a very different story to that of their family. A tale about the disappointment and expectation of family fictions, as Mor strives to create a new story about her grandmother surrounding the curious history of the Café Nagler.


In Defense of Food (USA, 2015) Dir. Michael Schwarz

Michael Pollan, journalist and activist, returns in this PBS documentary to talk about what to eat to be healthy. We know the food industry manipulates what we consume, from advertising to where things are placed in the supermarket, and Pollan investigates here how we must revolutionize the way we eat.


Campo a través. Mugaritz, intuyendo un camino. (Off-Road. Mugaritz, Feeling a Way)(ESP, 2015) Dir. Pep Gatell

Off-Road explores the ideas and work behind the world famous Basque restaurant Mugaritz and the chef who runs it, Andoni Luis Aduriz. Described as a ‘philosophical and ecological documentary‘, Gatell explores the creative processes and life philosophies behind Mugaritz that enable the restaurant’s continual innovation.


Portret van een tuin (Portrait of a Garden) (NLD, 2015) Dir., Rose Stapel

A documentary about a historical vegetable garden on an estate in Holland and the 85-year-old pruning master who tends to the garden. It sees the pruning master strive to pass on his knowledge and enthusiasm to a younger generation of gardeners, through a year of seasons as the pruning master and his apprentice talk of the world around them and their passion for gardening.

Kulinarisches Kino (Culinary Cinema) at the Berlin International Film Festival runs February 14-19, 2016.


By Harriet Blackmore