SLOW FOOD WORLD – California Tastes ‘Slow Food On Film’

It was a Slow Food USA event that provided the first occasion to officially endorse the relationship between the movement and COPIA, the American Center for Wine, Food & Arts (founded in Napa by the great winemaking patriarch Roberto Mondavi and officially inaugurated in November 2001).

As often happens in this part of the world, it was Alice Waters—the ‘queen’ of American organic food is both a Slow Food USA governor and an honorary member of the COPIA board—who first brought the two organizations together in an encounter that, given the objectives and philosophy of both parties, had to happen sooner later. After much hectic preparatory work, the ‘Summer Bounty Celebration’ was eventually held on August 25; it was sponsored by both organisations and hosted by the COPIA museum-house, designed by the Plashek Architects Partnership, a sort of food and wine ‘Beauborg’ on the sunny Napa plain at the heart of California’s winemaking country. Supervised by Alice Water’s restaurant, Chez Panisse, Slow Food’s ‘Summer Bounty Celebration’ consisted of a buying exhibition of fine organic produce and a barbecue lunch; 6 Taste Workshops (a cooking lesson by Alice Waters and Marion Cunningham, a fruit jam tasting with June Taylor, a gazpacho lesson by Paula Wolfert, a comparative Cheddar cheese tasting with top producers, a local soft cheese tasting with Sue Connely and Peg Smith and, lastly, a tomato tasting with Joanne Wer); and a series of Slow Food ‘Sensory Stations’ (free indoor tastings offered by the producers themselves).

That took care of food and wine, with which COPIA is well equipped to cope. But since its full name is American Center for Wine, Food & Arts, this last element also had to be catered for. Which is where I come into the story! In fact, Slow Food USA asked me, as director of ‘Slow Food on Film’, to bring a ‘taste’ of the Bra International Short Film Festival dedicated to the love of food to their Napa event. COPIA happens to boast a 260-seater theater, used both as a performance space and as a cinema (though only DVD projection equipment is available): this was the luxurious venue for a ‘Slow Food on Film Festival Highlights’ event, at which we screened four of the 21 films that took part in the first edition of the festival in Bra in April, three times in the course of the day (at 11am, 1pm and 3pm).

As the selection was down to me, I opted to show the two prizewinners: Italian Giuseppe Gagliardi’s Peperoni (winner of the Golden Snail) and the American film Oyster Guanaca by Sarah Cohen and Jennifer Bishop (Honourable Mention), plus two of the most popular films with audience and panel alike – the British film A Love Supreme by Nilesh Patel and Love to Meat You by Maria Lafi from Greece.

Peperoni (Italy, 14’, colour, 16mm) is set in a village in Fifties Calabria, where the love affair between two youngsters, Dario and Maria, is thwarted by traditional conventions and gossip, which make it complicated for them to meet. In this context, the peppers of the title become both a means of seduction and a solution for the conflict. Oyster Guanaca (USA, 11’28”, b/w, 35mm) is the story of a dishwasher from El Salvador working in a Washington restaurant, who decides to give his wife a large quantity of oysters as a gift, despite his colleagues’ teasing. A Love Supreme (GB, 9’11”, b/w, 35mm) is a loving little audiovisual lesson by the young director’s mother on how to make classic Indian samosas, filmed and edited like the boxing sequences in Scorsese’s Raging Bull. “This is a record of her skill with her hands, in case this should sadly diminish,” explains Nilesh. Lastly, in Love to Meat You (Greece, 15’, colour, 35mm)—in which poor, simple Eleni labors to cook her best dishes for her man Yorgos, and receiving only blows and insults, she in turn hits out and insults him—we are shown the crudest, most derisory way in which the way to man’s heart is through his stomach.

This was the menu I was required to present three times in Napa. The screenings were a big hit, and after each I made a laborious speech in English to explain to the large, interested audience how the world’s first contest for short films on food came about, summarizing the first edition with the help of Sarah Cohen, the co-director of Oyster Guanaca, who came along to present her film in person. The spectators’ curiosity was stimulated by talking to her. Alice Waters and her friend Davia Nelson (who works for Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope), who were in the audience, were both so excited by the films and the idea of the festival that they urged me to bring it to the US next year (the next edition will be held in Bra in 2004), an over the next few months I intend to work on the project.

All this, of course, took place inside in the dark, while outside, in the COPIA garden, the warm sunshine welcomed the numerous gourmet visitors, rewarding them with a successful and enjoyable Slow day.

For more information about COPIA, visit

Stefano Sardo, a novelist and screenwriter, is the director of the Slow Food on Film festival

Adapted by Ailsa Wood and John Irving

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