This year marks the introduction of a number of new sidebars for the fest, among them the French, music, and a series of films on Jewish themes. Much of the new sampling is due to the partial departure of longtime programmer Candace Schemerhorn (still programming documentaries, working on her own), which plunged Roger Durling into fear and dismay but finally left him with a resigned sense that it was time to tear up the categories — the Asian films, for instance, are no more — and re-make the order.
And one of the new items is quite fitting for menu-minded Santa Barbara: food.
“This is another sidebar that is good to see in its entirety,” said Mike Albright, who has a thing about interweaving ideas. He’s also taken the issue a bit more seriously, and more nonfictionally than food was treated on film during one entry to last year’s fest, when a movie about Japanese pastry-making drove most of us — and particularly those dieting post-holidays — into spasms of hunger lust. This year the emphasis is more precisely on issues raised pertaining to the future of our edible life on this planet. “I think these films really deal well with the environment, and most have something interesting to add about issues like sustainability and the difference between local and global thinking,” said Albright.
Perhaps the more obvious example is Cafeteria Man, a lively, if somewhat lionizing, examination of the short intense career enjoyed by Tony Geraci, who, as food service director for the city of Baltimore schools, succeeded in bestriding the world between bureaucratic lunch ladies and farm-to-table chefs. We see him working with inner-city kids, plucking tomatoes on a small truck farm converted into an education slash production center for organic lunches for kids used to pizza five days a week, and, finally, getting recognition from Michelle Obama. Even more properly propagandistic is Taste the Waste, a film that begins with dumpster divers in Austria and girdles the globe to unearth ways of feeding humanity without chemically poisoning the Earth.
UCSB sociology professor Kum-Kum Bhavani was working right up to the festival deadline to finish Nothing Like Chocolate, a one-hour documentary about “anarchist chocolatier” Mott Green’s fight to pull the production of the only food that has been directly, chemically linked to love away from exploiters. In a similar vein, and one most relevant to Santa Barbara since the 1970s, Wine: the Green Revolution presents the biodynamic methods of wine production that are already in the works in a number of our own Santa Ynez valley wineries, taking a great hedonistic thing, wine, and making it morally better.
But truly great documentaries get under our skin that same way an emotional feature film (of which, sadly, there are none this year) can. That is get under our tough skins, and Jiro Dreams of Sushi presents a suitably delicate portrait of a quality-obsessed sushi chef, Jiro Ono, making him seem real, amazing, and flawed before our eyes. Ono has a three star Michelin restaurant in a Tokyo train station that one must make reservations at least a month in advance, pay about $180 minimum. According to all interviewed, it never disappoints. It may entertain important issues about sustaining the seas, but it definitely raises interesting questions about the fine line between drive and harmony in life. It most certainly will make your mouth water.
“I think they’ll have lines around the block at Arigato on the evenings we screen it,” said Albright.