Hot Docs: El Builli – Cooking in Progress [Gereon Wetzel, 2011]

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Toronto – Even with my limited knowledge of world class chefs and restaurants, I’ve heard of the legendary Spanish restaurant El Bulli. A restaurant that overlooks the Cala Montjoi Bay near the town of Roses, El Bulli specializes in molecular gastronomy. It is headed by a mad scientist of a chef – Ferran Adrià, whose unique and bizarre creations have earned the restaurant the moniker of “best restaurant in the world” for four of the past five years. The documentary El Bulli – Cooking in Progress takes a behind the scenes at this restaurant, giving us a glimpse at some of the processes behind the food creations and the operational methods of a top restaurant.

As a person who kind of likes to cook, I found this documentary fascinating. We are first taken to El Bulli in their offseason (El Bulli is only open half the year), as Ferran and his band of head chefs design the menu for the upcoming season. Coming off as scientists rather than chefs, the crew spend countless hours trying to reinvent the wheel, looking for ways to create a new taste or smell, using all sorts of ingredients. Every detail is written down in a meticulous manner, spawning binders upon binders of ideas, mixtures and recipes. It appears to be quite the process. Wannabe cooks, make no mistake, this documentary is not a cooking tutorial. A cocktail with various cooking oils is attempted, food is made to look like other food, things are vaccuumized – it all looks completely out of the world. Ferran, for his part, is unlike most of the chefs you have probably seen on the food network. He’s calm, supportive and completely trusting of his sous chef and the like. Compared to the angry, catch phrase obsessed ego maniacs you see on regular television, it’s really refreshing to see. The rest of the documentary takes you through the rest of the process, from acquainting new hires to the eventual opening, a slideshow of the menu items ends off the film. It all looks like a rather friendly and efficient operation, which is unlike what you hear about most places.

This documentary would be highly interesting to any self-proclaimed foodies. Lacking an emotional or argumentative narrive, it is primarily a straight forward “this is how we do things” documentary, more intent on giving you a behind a scenes look then providing any opinions about the restaurant or the chef. I would have liked some insight into why Ferran chose to go down this course, or why some of the chefs have been at El Bulli for so long (three of his chefs have been there for over a decade), but I guess this film is purely about the food and process – both of which look pretty damn good.

Fri, Apr 29 8:45 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Sat, Apr 30 1:00 PM @ Cumberland 2
Sun, May 8 3:00 PM @ Cumberland 3

Hot Docs: The Castle [2011, Massimo D’Anolfi & Martina Parenti]

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs | 1 Comment

the castle

Toronto – The world of airport security in the post 9/11 world has become increasingly invasive with an alarming amount security measures introduced on a seemingly yearly basis. The Castle, an Italian documentary by filmmakers Massimo D’Anolfi and Martina Parenti that takes a look at these increased measures, as well day to day operations of airport personnel at Milan’s Malpensa Airport. Following employees of the airport for a better part of a year, we meet customs officials, immigration officers, grounds crew, and a nomadic woman who seems to live inside the airport.

The first two thirds of the documentary was fascinating – we finally get a good glimpse at what immigration and customs officers do on a daily basis, including interrogations of refugees, suspected drug traffickers and all sorts of nefarious individuals. This could be a root cause of why officials at airports always seem to be in a bad mood. Seeing the frustration painted on an officer’s face as a busted drug trafficker openly lies to him helps make you realize that life at the airport is not all fun and games. The documentary also shows the downside of increased security measures, with various citizens seemingly having their rights violated by having their possessions searched through and through. The filmmakers also take looks at customs officials who have to deal with mass shipments of goods, as well as the ground crew’s everlasting battle with birds on the runway. It was all very interesting.

The last third of the documentary focused on a particular woman who seemed to have been inspired by Tom Hanks in the movie The Terminal. The woman has taken up shop at the airport, using the public bathroom for everything from cleaning to cooking. Because the filmmakers took a no testimonial/interview approach with the film, we don’t really get any details as to why the woman lived there, so one can only assume. While the concept of following around someone who lives in an airport is interesting in itself, the execution of this segment was mind-numbing. The last half hour of the documentary was more or less dedicated to watching this woman clean and cook a meal and dyeing her hair. A good fifteen minutes was dedicated to watching this woman wash her hair, cut it, dye it and dry it. It’s about as interesting as it sounds. There are no footage of her dealing with security or immigrations, just a woman in a public bathroom going about her womanly ways. It was one of the most frustrating segments in a documentary I’ve ever seen.

I wish I could have rated Italian documentary The Castle after 2/3 of the film because at that point, I was thinking it was a pretty stellar documentary. However, after that the documentary went off the rails faster than a Hollywood teenage star and as a result, most audiences will leave the film in a daze.

The Castle has the following screenings:

Mon, May 2 9:30 PM @ Cumberland 2
Wed, May 4 1:00 PM @ Cumberland 2

Hot Docs Review: Gnarr [2010, Gaukur Úlfarsson]

Posted on by Mark in Hot Docs, Reviews | Leave a comment

Toronto – In May of 2009, Iceland found itself in utter turmoil. After having shut down most European flights, that crazy volcano was still smouldering and causing sporadic havok. In addition, the economy was in shambles. The country’s cheeks were about as red as Eyjafjallajokull’s lava. Icelanders felt completely disillusioned with the rampant corruption of their government. The financial turmoil in Iceland seemed to be powered by the reckless greed and brinkmanship of suits and politicians so very removed from the values of the people.

I had the opportunity to be in Iceland at the time, and it seemed like everyone was pausing to have a good post-concussion blink. I picked up a copy of the Reykjavik Grapevine and was introduced to comedian Jón Gnarr. After being so underwhelmed with politics of the day, he decided on a lark to form his own party and run for mayor. His platform included such gems as a drug-free parliament by 2020, a polar bear for the zoo, free towels at the pool and “all kinds of things for weaklings”.

“This campaign begun solely so that I can get a good salary and use the city’s summerhouse by the water.” -Jón Gnarr

Underneath all the comedy was a message that resonated with the people of Reykjavik. Maybe sustainable growth was better than that other kind? Something really weird happened: people got excited about politics. All of a sudden an outsider was on the inside and speaking truth to power. Before long, the aptly named “Best Party” became a serious contender for the mayor-ship. Within a month of my visit, Jon Gnarr was sworn in as mayor of Iceland’s largest city.

Politics is a weird thing. It informs so much of what we as a people can do. It spells out our rights and the parameters of our society. It has a cyclical and intimate relationship with our very values. That being said, it’s easy to see how people get depressed when they see government’s so routinely campaign on one platform and govern from another.

For the politically-minded, this is a heartening story. As Canadians head to the polls shortly for their own election, I hope that we can catch even a bit of the fever of Iceland one year ago. Decisions are made by the people who show up.

Gnarr plays at Hot Docs, with screenings on May 1, 2, and 8th.

Song of the Day: Chad Valley – Fast Challenges

Posted on by Ricky in Song of the Day | 1 Comment


Toronto – How talented is this guy? Chad Valley is the solo moniker of Jonquil lead singer Hugo Manuel. While the latter is a rousing uplifting jangly poppish band with love of pianos and horns, Chad Valley happily resides in samples and synthesizer land. The result is a lush, ambient Fred Falkesque dance/lounge martini track called “Fast Challenges.” It’s off the upcoming EP Equatorial Ultravox, which is released one day after my birthday – June 20th. Check out the track

ps. I almost didn’t check out this band because Chad Valley to me screams country music singer, not electro dancefloor bliss. I should probably stop judging bands based on band names.