Film-to-Fork: Sacramento Food Film Fest pairs local chefs with documentary shorts

Niche ideas merge with farm-to-fork branding

Alcott Elemntary School students in Chicago featured in the documentary film <i>Lunch Line</i>.

Alcott Elemntary School students in Chicago featured in the documentary film Lunch Line.

Photo courtesy of uji films 2010

When the Sacramento Food Film Festival launched in 2012, it was a pet project of local food blogger Catherine Enfield, who rented out the Guild Theater on 35th Street for a day.

Later that year, the Sacramento nonprofit Food Literacy Center pushed a statewide resolution through the legislature declaring September “Food Literacy Month,” and local officials declared Sacramento the Farm-to-Fork Capital of the nation. Just as political gestures were drawing attention to the region’s agriculture, Enfield’s marathon of food-related documentaries—one of seven like it in the United States—had cropped up.

Six years on, the Farm-to-Fork logo is all over town and the festival is entering its seventh annual incarnation, now organized by the Food Literacy Center and its founder, Amber Stott.

“Her goal was to bring these food documentaries to Sacramento that weren’t being shown at the traditional theaters,” Stott says of Enfield, who remains involved as a member of Stott’s planning committee.

The festival found success in its sophomore year by recruiting chefs to serve bites that complemented the selected films. Enfield donated the growing festival to Food Literacy Center in 2014, and the ensuing years brought new venues, sponsors, chefs and patrons. The center says it now partners with “an average of 98 local businesses and restaurants and 68 volunteers” to mount the event.

“This is the first year since those early years that we’re back in a theater at all. We were doing [screenings] in restaurants; we’ve done them on a bus; we’ve done one in a park; so we really took the show on the road over the years,” Stott says. “And the goal of it is to educate people … We try to have this range [from] quirky-and-interesting to the hard-hitting political issues that we really want to address.”

The Film Festival is the primary fundraiser for Food Literacy Center, founded by Stott in 2011 with the express mission of inspiring kids to eat their vegetables. Supported by a staff of seven, Stott says, she accomplishes this by visiting low-income elementary schools.

“Our approach to education with kids is fun,” Stott says, mapping this onto her approach with the festival. “If we make the event fun, people will show up to watch food documentaries … Some people do a gala, we do a film festival. And this is way more fun.” Wasted!

One of the only regulars on a constantly shifting roster of venues for the festival, Lucca Restaurant & Bar hosted a sold-out screening of Wasted! The Story of Food Waste on April 11.

Directed by New York filmmakers Nari Kye and Anna Chai and produced by Anthony Bourdain, Wasted! explores the issue through the eyes of chefs, activists and food-industry insiders.

Lucca’s chef, Ian McBride, prepared a four-course meal from ingredients that are often needlessly discarded—a “dumpster-dive” salad of scraps and trimmings; leftover-bread gnocchi, grilled scallion ends and salmon skin crumbs; grilled rib-eye trim with potatoes roasted in saved beef fat; and for dessert, burnt orange peel and coffee-ground cremoux.

“Supporting that cause is my biggest draw,” McBride says. “At the same time, especially with a movie like this, it spreads some awareness.”

Saturday night shorts

For the festival’s main event on Saturday, the Colonial Theatre will host six chefs, each of whom was assigned a short film. Attendees will be treated to small bites, followed by a “vegetable pun-off” among four local comedians.

Seven short films will then screen back-to-back. Filmmakers Lars Fuchs and Matthew Fleischmann (Food City: Feast of the Five Boroughs,) will then take the stage for a Q&A.

It’s a point of regret for Stott that only one film is from Sacramento: Know Your Farmer, a last-minute entry from young filmmakers associated with the Oak Park Farmers Market.

“That’s the big dream, that we would have more local filmmakers making food films,” she says. “We’re the farm-to-fork capital, but we’re not documenting that from a film perspective.” Everything off-screen, however, will be local.

Whole Foods spokeswoman Christina Clarke, whose company has been a festival sponsor from the start, said her team is making in-kind contributions of food as well as preparing it for two events. For Saturday, they’ve planned a twist on a crostini using kale as the topping and a white-bean puree as the base, to complement a short called “Super Veggies.” For the final event at the future Broccoli HQ site, their bite will showcase the chosen veggie of the day, Romanesco.

“It’s an educational experience for the community that we saw the unique opportunity to be a part of, and it’s in such great alignment with our values,” Clarke says. “(Certain films) will raise the issue of awareness about food systems, or tie back into the importance of healthy-eating education for kids.”

Broccoli HQ

The film festival’s last event, the only one that had sold out as of press time, will be the first public look at the city school district’s Broccoli HQ site, planned to accommodate a kids’ cooking school, 1.5-acre student-run farm and community garden next to Leataata Floyd Elementary.

The April 21 event will be co-hosted by school board member Jay Hansen and city councilmember Steve Hansen (no relation), who will take guests on a tour of the site. The cafeteria will then provide what Stott calls an “ideal school lunch,” served family-style by the district’s executive chef, before a screening of the documentary Lunch Line, about the history and potential future of school lunches.

Hansen says the 1.5-acre farm on the school district, Broccoli HQ, is going to be one of the largest working farms in California that’s part of a school district, and being in the backyard of the capital, it’s going to get a lot of visibility.

He hopes to see Broccoli HQ constructed and open for business by the end of 2019.