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The Globe and Mail

The Food on Film series: watching what they eat

Chemistry professor Kent Kirshenbaum got a better understanding of the process of discovery that went into the elaborate meal he had at El Bulli.

For a second season, TIFF Bell Lightbox is holding its Food on Film series with a lineup of movies and prominent guest speakers, both serious and silly, that will tickle the taste buds and provide food for thought.

"We kind of wanted to pick films and guests that had a good mix of content and potential conversation," says series host Annabelle Waugh, food director of Canadian Living magazine. "We wanted to cover the aesthetics of food through how it looks onscreen and how food stylists make it look that way, the cultural history of food, how it relates to different gender roles, politics, the science behind food and taste and cuisine. I think there's a lot of different facets there that we can look into."

The Globe and Mail asked some of this year's speakers what the films they are discussing mean to them:

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James Oseland

Editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine, on Michael Winterbottom's culinary comedy The Trip

"For better and worse, the film has an uncanny resemblance to the odd reality of my life. As long as I can recall, I've been an inveterate eater, an inveterate road traveller, and for the last 25 years, I've been a food journalist. So it's a kind of happy serendipity of all these three elements that makes this movie resonate in the way it does for me. On a recent cross-country U.S. tour, I travelled with a friend and a colleague from Saveur. We drove from Minnesota to San Francisco, and it was almost alarming how many of the predicaments, how much of the language and how much of the eating paralleled what I saw in the film. It almost actually freaked me out."

Claire Stubbs

Toronto-based food stylist, on Luca Guadagnino's romantic drama I Am Love

"It's a great exploration of the relationship with food and love and repression and passion. The food scenes in this film are everything from very, very elaborate to very simple and there are a lot of interesting food elements to it. In some scenes, for example, the presentation of food is really formal, very luxurious. A lot of the dishes seem to be presented more for the appearance, as opposed to for taste. And they're also about the traditions and the longevity of the family portrayed in the film. These very controlled, opulent meals seem to be a way that the characters go through the motions of presenting this very full life for themselves. But they're each very repressed in their own way."

Aldo Sohm

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Sommelier at renowned New York restaurant Le Bernardin, on Alexander Payne's buddy comedy Sideways

"I loved watching this film because there some really hilarious scenes and some that are also tragic, but have a happy ending in their own way. What I found most hilarious and interesting was how basically this movie changed the entire way of drinking in this country. All of a sudden in America, pinot noir was just hot. And nobody wanted to drink merlot any more. This movie made wine into a funny thing and a very approachable thing. Wine can be very intimidating. You go in a restaurant, you have a big wine list and you're with friends or business people. You don't want to be intimidated and you don't want to look silly. That movie basically flattened it out. It took the fear away."

Anita Stewart

Elora, Ont.-based food activist and member of the Order of Canada, on Robert Kenner's documentary Food, Inc.

"This film is a really important one as it allows us to enlarge on the conversation around Canadian food and the differences between Canada and the U.S. And from my perspective, we need to be very much aware of that there's a difference between "Made in America" and "Made in Canada." There are very definite differences between our regulatory agencies. And the size of farms is huge in the U.S.: there's an egg farm in Maine that has more chickens than our entire national flock. The whole influence of corporate America south of the border is pretty profound. Here, 98 per cent of our farms are family-owned. These are some of the things I'd like to raise."

Kent Kirshenbaum

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Associate professor of chemistry at New York University, on Gereon Wetzel's documentary on chef Ferran AdriĆ 's now-defunct legendary restaurant, El Bulli: Cooking in Progress

"Two main aspects came to me as I watching this film. One was just my recollections of dining at El Bulli three years ago, and getting a much better understanding of the process of discovery that went into the incredibly elaborate meal I had there and gaining a richer appreciation for that. And the other is the real similarities to the kinds of work we do here in my research lab on a day-to-day basis. Most of the work that we do doesn't involve food at all, but drug discovery. But it's still a lot of the same aspects: a lot of the training, the attention to detail that we saw in the day-to-day operation of the research kitchen."

These interviews have been condensed and edited.

The Food on Film series screens runs on Wednesday evenings at 6:30, starting Feb. 13 through to June 19, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.

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