DEVOUR! THE FOOD FILM FEST - A preview of Wolfville’s annual five-day feast for the eyes and bellies
Michael Howell doesn’t mince words when he talks about his hopes for the food film festival he started in Wolfville in 2009. Before Devour! 2014, he told me he wanted it to become the Sundance of food films. Two festivals later — where over 130 culinary flicks were shown, over 15,000 people attended and special guests like Anthony Bourdain appeared — it’s hard to argue those hopes haven’t become reality.
Now Howell’s expectations are even bigger. “The vision is to eventually be Canada’s South by Southwest, this sort of fusion of different activities,” he says. The reason, simple: “It just adds more variety and value to anybody that’s coming.”
We’ll have to wait and watch and eat to find out if he and his team hit that mark in a few years, but for now they seem to be on track. Eleven thousand people are expected this year, and the lineup includes lots of that variety Howell was talking about: over 70 food films; close to 20 culinary adventures ranging from a craft beer bus trip to an Acadian food tour; a street food party; multiple workshops that’ll include one on making sourdough, another on making cocktails; and special dinners where international and regional chefs will team up to create meals inspired by feature films.
Three of those visiting chefs will be Chopped Canada judge John Higgins, American celebrity chef Mary Sue Milliken and Boston restaurateur Barbara Lynch, who in 2014 was the second woman to ever be awarded the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Restaurateur. They’ll be joined by almost 100 other chefs, filmmakers, mixologists, writers, photographers, and other food and film experts from Nova Scotia, Canada and around the world.
Daily programming will be guided by specific themes, and November 3rd’s is “Slow Food Thursday,” which will include a celebration of Wolfville’s recent designation as a Cittaslow community. Only the third Canadian community to receive the title, Wolfville joins 176 municipalities around the world recognized for their commitment to “slow city” principles. Meaning: they fulfill Cittaslow’s 50-plus criteria related to such issues as environmental protection, support for local products, community engagement and social justice.
“That was a great honour,” says Howell, “so we’re going to celebrate that with our programming on Thursday and screen films that are related to food awareness, celebrations of farmers and farming and food traditions. And of course that dovetails nicely with our street food party on Thursday of local foods as well.” That party goes from 4 pm to 8 pm, by the way, and will not only feature a food truck rally but, like Halifax’s Open City concept, have backdoor specials at restaurants throughout town, too.
Friday’s theme is “Building Community,” and along with a seminar on how to innovate within the culinary tourism sphere, it’ll star venerated chef John Higgins and his students from George Brown College, where Higgins is the director of the chef school. They’ll all team up with students from the culinary arts program at Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) and collaborate on a special gala dinner. That evening expect a similarly community-focussed film program all about how cuisine informs and creates a sense of place.
Saturday’s theme, dubbed “The Power of Women and Gastronomy,” emerged after the Devour! team scored “The Goddesses of Food” as the feature film that evening. Made by one of the producers behind “Steak (R)evolution,” it highlights the successes and struggles female chefs face in kitchens. “It’ll be the world premiere of the film, and it’ll be followed by a largescale dinner for 180 people cooked by all female chefs at the Wolfville Farmers’ Market,” says Devour! Managing Director (and Local Connections writer) Lia Rinaldo. “We’re bringing in incredible chefs from around the world, from L.A., Boston, Toronto, to pair up with talented locals.” Barbara Lynch and Mary Sue Milliken are two of those international stars.
The awards banquet will cap off the fest on Sunday, and as with previous years will feature a jury that picks Devour’s top films. “And it’s a particularly heavy-hitting jury this year,” adds Rinaldo. Namely, Arlene Stein, the founder of Toronto’s Terroir Symposium, Steve Chagollan, an L.A. movie writer for 20 years, and Craig Weintraub, the co-founder of the Long Beach International Film Festival. The announcement of their picks will be paired with brunch made by George Brown College and NSCC students.
So there you have it; perhaps not quite a lineup on par with South by Southwest yet, but one that shows, as with every previous Devour!, a commitment to making us more aware of how food impacts our cultures and our communities.
“We want people to walk away feeling educated and entertained,” says Howell. “We want you to say, ‘Damn, I can’t believe I can eat so good in Nova Scotia.’ Or, ‘Holy, I didn’t realize there’s slavery in the chocolate trade.’ If you’re more aware of the food universe, that’s a fait accompli for us.”