Relish Fest: Food on Film

There’s a new film festival in town, and it’s all about food! Relish Fest, the brainchild of Maria Iacobelli and The Tomato’s Mary Bailey, celebrates food in all its incarnations on the big screen. Running November 13-16, 2014 in a variety of locations in the city, the festival will be highlighting a number of local, national and international films.

Relish Film Fest

Relish Fest organizers Mary Bailey and Maria Iacobelli with To Make a Farm director Steve Suderman

Although its inaugural year features a panel discussion and a Parmigiano & Prosecco party in addition to screenings, the organizers shared that their focus in coming year will be their “dinner and a movie” series, involving a dinner themed around a specific film preceding each screening. It sounds like a great way to spend an evening.

Relish Food Fest

Relishing some wine

On Thursday night, Mack and I were fortunate enough to be guests at the opening reception. The film To Make a Farm, was screened, a beautiful homage to small family farms in Canada. Director Steve Suderman did a wonderful job capturing the difficulties of farm life – the relentless demands, the unpredictability of mother nature, the loneliness – but also the joy and the rewards that can come from working the land and contributing to the community through food. I was particularly moved by a scene where one farmer said a heartfelt goodbye to the pigs she’d reared and loved, just before sending them to slaughter.

After the movie, a moderated discussion featured an all-female panel: Rhonda Zuk-Headon from The Cheesiry, Cathryn Sprague from Reclaim Urban Farm, Jenny Berkenbosch from Sundog Organic Farm and Vicky Horne from Tangle Ridge Ranch. The panelists expressed that they could very much relate to the stories they watched on screen (Jenny called them “kindred spirits”), and in the process of bettering their techniques, have undergone similar learning journeys. When asked a question about future growth, and in particular, “How big is too big?”, the goal for most was sustainability, while always improving operations.

Relish Food Fest

The panelists with Director Suderman

I felt the panel was a bit too rushed, and would have enjoyed more time with the panelists, but I recognize that the organizers were trying to keep things on time and moving along.

Although there was a second film screening to end the evening, we weren’t able to stay. Based on our first impressions, however, I think Relish is off to a great start! Congrats to Maria and Mary on this new addition to the city’s festival scene.

Check out the rest of the film line-up and ticket information here.

Date Night: Mirepoix Trio and the Princess Theatre

Just as food trucks have been a means towards establishing a storefront or brick and mortar restaurant (see: Filistix and Woodwork), I think pop-up restaurants have the same potential. It seems like ages ago now, but before RGE RD moved into their permanent digs, Chef Blair Lebsack hosted pop-up meals in the city and out on the farm (and even now, continues with the latter).

The Mirepoix Trio (made up of Chefs Rylan Krause, Jade Wu and Adam Zarycki) has been organizing special one-off vegan dinners in Edmonton since last summer. The functions not only let them collaborate and cook outside the box, but the meals have also allowed them to build a name for themselves and some money to boot – with the hope of one day establishing their own restaurant.

Mirepoix Trio

The Mirepoix Trio

Based on their Easter weekend suppers, I think the Mirepoix Trio is gaining quite the following in this city. They had generously invited Mack and I to dine as their guests as an engagement present (so sweet). Held at Upper Crust on Good Friday, the five course meal would have only set us back a very reasonable $40.

We started off with some refreshing drinks – a Mirepoix soda (Limoncello, vodka, basil, mint agave and soda) and an Orange Blossom (sugar, orange biters, St. Germain and Prosecco).

Mirepoix Trio


Kudos to the chefs for preceding each course with a personal explanation – it’s always great to see the people behind the food! It was also insightful to hear about their direction for the meal – to make sure each course would flow into the next, each dish would adopt an ingredient from the previous one, ensuring some continuity.

The first course was a straightforward but delicious mushrooms and toast, served with an underlay of fennel pesto. Those two bites packed a punch, and set the tone at the start for a meal all about simple comforts.

Mirepoix Trio

Mushrooms and toast

On that blustery, snowy day, nothing was more welcome than the tomato soup with grilled cheese croutons (the cheese in this instance was Daiya). I could have eaten more than a handful of those crispy croutons, but I did particularly appreciate the brightness that the roasted tomato drizzle lent the dish.

Mirepoix Trio

Tomato soup with grilled cheese

Mack found the palate-cleansing iced tomato granita a little strange, given the extreme temperature shift from the earlier dish, but being a fan of caprese salad, I enjoyed the combination of tomato, basil and creamy cashew cheese.

Mirepoix Trio


We were both looking forward to the potato gnocchi, to be served with a creamy cheese sauce. The gnocchi themselves lived up to expectation, plump, seasoned well and satisfying. However, the accompanying asparagus seemed out of place texturally; the spears didn’t hold up to roasting at all.

Mirepoix Trio


To end the night was Mirepoix’s take on a classic – strawberry shortcake. Here, the addition of basil tied it into the main, but what really made it sing was the sweet dollop of coconut whipped cream. I didn’t miss the dairy at all!

Mirepoix Trio

Strawberry basil shortcake

The meal was a great introduction to what the Mirepoix Trio is trying to do – elevate expectations of vegan cuisine, all within a scope of familiarity for those less accustomed to the possibilities of vegan cooking. It was clear Rylan, Jade and Adam are passionate about what they do – and given the growing niche of vegan establishments in Edmonton, I have no doubt a Mirepoix restaurant would help meet this need. Best of luck to them as they continue to raise their profile with these pop-up dinners! Follow them on Twitter to find out when their next event will be taking place.

After dinner, Mack and I walked over to The Princess Theatre to continue our evening with food on film. I had earmarked The Lunchbox during last year’s Edmonton International Film Festival, but due to time conflicts, I wasn’t able to watch it. Lucky for me, The Princess brought the film back to Edmonton.

It’s been some time since we’ve caught a film at The Princess, but this visit reminded us why we should be back more often – clean, intimate and retro, it was a much different experience than a trip to the typical multiplex. So much so that we indulged in popcorn, something we never do!

The Princess Theatre

Salty snacks

As for The Lunchbox – I highly recommend it, and not just for the food (even though the styling inspired immediate Indian cuisine cravings). My interest in the movie was initially to see the dabbawala food delivery system in action, but it is so much more than that. It’s a lovely story about the connection between two lonely people in bustling Mumbai, subtle and beautifully acted. Though The Lunchbox is no longer playing at The Princess, it’s now moved to Landmark City Centre, so you still have a chance to see it in theatres. Go, now!

Star Wars Identities at the Telus World of Science

Mack made it easy on me to plan his birthday outing this year – he’d said from the beginning that all he wanted to do was check out the Star Wars Identities exhibit at the Telus World of Science. We’re both fans of the films, and had heard that there were quite a number of props and costumes worth seeing.

Star Wars Identities

The bikini heard ’round the world

What we didn’t know too much about was the “identities” portion of the exhibit. We knew we’d come out with some sort of character, but weren’t sure how this would happen. Turns out, it was quite seamless, and well-integrated with the displays.

We chose to head to TWoS early last Saturday afternoon, probably a mistake in hindsight. Parking was a nightmare, and the facility itself was quite busy (though not as busy as later that day; rule of thumb: the earlier, the better!). We had to queue up for at least twenty minutes before we were permitted inside the exhibit, located in the newest wing of the building. While waiting, we were given a rubber bracelet and an audio set.

The bracelet enabled us to create our character by choosing from different options at ten stations located throughout the displays. From mentors and personality to values, we would help define our Star Wars self. The creators also made sure the selections were placed at a height accessible to young children – everything proved to be deliberate and well thought-out.

Star Wars Identities

Make your choice, padawan

The audio sets worked within certain ranges of displays or video screens, helping to keep the noise level to a minimum. Mack and I wondered why more galleries haven’t adopted systems like this – I have to say I much prefer listening to a narrative clip to reading a placard.

As expected, the costumes, models and sketches on display would make any Star Wars fan excited. I particularly loved seeing several of Padme’s costumes, while Mack jumped at the chance to pose with Darth Vader.

Star Wars Identities

Gorgeous costumes

Star Wars Identities

Darth Vader

Star Wars Identities

Anakin’s podracer!

Star Wars Identities

Millenium Falcon model

Star Wars Identities

Han in carbonite

The highlight for me was actually watching the brief videos detailing how the two Skywalker men, Anakin and Luke, could veer off into such different paths in spite of their similar roots and trajectories. I guess I never really thought about their characters in such an in-depth way, especially about how the their parenting influenced each of them so profoundly.

Star Wars Identities

Watching one of the videos

The last identity option participants could choose from was whether or not to accept The Emperor’s offer to join the dark side. Mack chose to succumb, while I held out.

The final part of the exhibit allowed us to project our character onto a screen, and e-mail the character to ourselves for online sharing.

Our Star Wars selves!

Before heading out, we checked out the newly renovated environment gallery. The spherical projection screen was pretty cool, and the aquariums added some visual appeal. But as a whole, I was disappointed at the amount of text screens versus hands on displays. It doesn’t help that we were exposed to Calgary’s Spark last year, which features a wonderfully interactive environment gallery.

TWoS Environment Gallery

Spherical projection screen

TWoS Environment Gallery

Too many words!

If you’re a Star Wars fan (or even just a fan of filmmaking in general), make sure you head to the Telus World of Science before the Identities exhibit closes April 1, 2013.

Edmonton Film Society: “Casablanca”

I’ve never watched Casablanca. At least, not in its entirety. While I’ve been able to identify lines like “We’ll always have Paris” and “Here’s looking at you, kid”, it’s one of those classics that I probably should have seen by now.

Though these movies are readily available at video rental stores and at the library, there really is no better place to get acquainted (or reacquainted, as the case may be) with classic films than with the Edmonton Film Society.

Edmonton Film Society

Edmonton Film Society Winter 2011 Series

The Edmonton Film Society is entirely volunteer-run, and its obvious their passion for movies is true. They organize several screening series a year, all centred around themes. The current theme, for example, is “Favourite Movies Forever”, with all titles chosen for their timeless quality. The screenings are dirt cheap, too: just $5 per show, or better yet, $25 for an eight show subscription.

Each show is introduced by a volunteer, a forward that sets the context of the show. It is more often than not studded with fun facts about the people involved with the movie, or the hijinx that happened during the production of the film (Casablanca, for instance, was shot sequentially due to the simple fact that the script wasn’t finished).

But the reason why the shows are worth checking out has to do with the audience. It always feels like a trip back in time – the people just seem to react to film like they did in theatres sixty years ago. Instead of the almost bleak silence, Edmonton Film Society screenings are always punctuated with laughter, gasps, and at the end, a burst of applause (I’ve written about other EFS shows before).

It was no different watching Casablanca, though I must say – the audience seemed noticeably younger than at other screenings I’ve attended. And what can I say about Casablanca that hasn’t been said before? It was filled with more comedic moments than I expected (Sam and Louie in particular), and it was lovely hearing those oft-quoted lines uttered by Bogart (“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” might be my new favourite).

They are screening the Rock Hudson/Doris Day romantic comedy Pillow Talk on Valentine’s Day. But don’t worry, this series isn’t all fluff and banter: The Birds plays on February 28, 2011.

Film: “Presumed Guilty”

Mack and I were invited to attend the second Doc Soup screening that took place at the Citadel’s Zeidler Hall on Thursday night. Global Visions Film Festival helped to bring Doc Soup to Edmonton – a monthly film series that showcases both local and international documentaries.

The night’s film was Presumed Guilty, a documentary exposing the ills of the Mexican justice system through one man’s struggle to prove his innocence. José Antonio Zuñiga was arrested and jailed for a homicide he was never proven to have committed, and as the title of the film alludes, in a system where a conviction matters more than justice, his subsequent retrial was for show only, and did not result in a verdict change. It was a minor miracle that the cameras were allowed to film the retrial however, and I have to say, the “face off” portion of the footage was fascinating. The defendant (behind a set of bars) was able to literally face his accusers – in this case, the witness and the case detectives – and ask them questions face to face.

Antonio appealed the guilty verdict, and was able to secure an eventual acquittal from the appellate judges, but in the process, spent nearly 900 days in jail.

Roberto Hernandez, one of the two people behind the film, actually attended the screening, and conducted a Q & A at the end of the film. He is a lawyer by trade, and continued to reiterate his lack of filmmaking skill and expertise – “I just edited until I cried,” he said.  He was also extremely modest regarding the impact he has made on reforming the Mexican justice system – it turned out his previous documentary The Tunnel, which he screened for the country’s legislators, was a catalyst for a constitutional amendment passed last year which institutes a presumption of innocence.

The next Doc Soup screening is Junior, on February 4. For $10, it’s sure to be a worthwhile evening of food for thought. Thanks again to Ted Kerr for the invitation!

Adam also attended and blogged about the film – check out his thoughts here.

Film: “Food, Inc.”

Mack and I had the chance to attend an advance screening of Food, Inc. at the newly-overhauled Empire City Centre Cinemas on Wednesday night (the theatres look great by the way – seats where the springs aren’t loose, plus stadium-style seating!). A nearly full house took in director Robert Kenner’s look at the pitfalls of the industrial system of agriculture and its ramifications on an unsuspecting public, including obesity, food safety and environmental degradation.

Anyone who has read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma or Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation will not find anything surprising in the movie, as Pollan and Schlosser act as the narrative backbone for Food, Inc. However, it is worth seeing for the inglorious visuals alone – the overhead shots of CAFOs, the dire conditions in claustrophobic chicken houses, and the assembly lines of mechanized meat factory workers.

On one hand, the scope of the film is admirable to encourage awareness of issues on a grand scale. But touching on everything from corn to tainted meat to Monsanto’s seed monopoly meant the film wasn’t as coherent as it could have been. In addition, several tangential storylines seemed unnecessary to me, such as the raids of illegal immigrants and the family struggling to feed itself well on a low-income. That time could have easily been spent providing more detail on some of the more central material.

Someone like Mack, who watched the movie with further distance from the subject than me, was hungry for facts, and commented that like other documentaries focused on getting a rise out of the audience, it played too much to the viewer’s emotion. He wished for more balance of fact and reason. Mack did really like the piece on the Stonyfield Farms CEO working with Wal-Mart – though some might frown at that partnership, it does make some sense to take organics mainstream, especially if it means reducing growth of the alternative.

My biggest criticism of the movie (echoed by Ron Berezan during the Q & A following the screening) was the lack of explicit actions empowered consumers could take. Particularly because the film was billed as containing some “opportunities for activism”, the lines of black-screen text suggestions were put together as seeming afterthoughts. Why didn’t they show consumers making deliberate choices at local farmers’ markets or growing their own food, and end with a resonating vision of what’s possible? While it’s true that the movie is just a catalyst, and that further education would have to follow, listing a website address before the credits just seems like a cop-out.

At the end of the day, I don’t know if this film will reach the wide audience that it should, but the fact that it is getting attention from the mainstream media is a positive step.

Food, Inc. premieres in Edmonton on July 17 at the Garneau Theatre.

“Food, Inc.” Edmonton Premiere

I’ve been looking forward to the Edmonton premiere of Food, Inc. since I started reading about the buzz surrounding the movie at its June 12 premiere in New York (NYT review here). Michael Pollan of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defence of Food fame narrates, so those who have read either of those books will likely already anticipate the film’s content and thesis. For those who aren’t familiar with his work, here is a synopsis of Food, Inc.:

“You are what you eat. It is a simple expression that bears scary implications as you watch the acclaimed documentary, Food, Inc. Director Robert Kenner draws upon the searing reportage of authors Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) to explore how modern developments in food production pose grave risks to our health and environment. These writers aren’t radicals or even vegetarians (Schlosser admits that his favourite meal is a hamburger and fries), but they are crusaders when it comes to exposing problems and naming offenders. There are stories of heartbreak and outrage, but the film carefully channels these emotions towards opportunities for activism. Watching Food, Inc. gives you a strong appetite for better meals.”

If you have been as eager to see the movie as I have been, you will also be excited to know that there is a special screening taking place on Wednesday, July 15 at 7pm at Empire City Centre Cinemas, and I have been provided with 5 double-guest passes by a company representing Alliance Films in Alberta to give away! Following the screening there will be a Q & A with a special guest panel featuring food experts, including Ron Berezan, The Urban Farmer.

If you are available and interested in attending, please leave a comment with a valid e-mail address below (in the e-mail address field, not the comment itself) by noon on July 12. I will randomly select five names and contact the winners by e-mail on Sunday evening.

Good luck!

Food, Inc.
Classification: PG (Mature Subject Matter)
Premieres in Edmonton on July 17 at the Garneau Theatre

“Big Night” at Al Fresco on 104th

deVine Wine and Spirits organized a great day of fundraising for the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters called Al Fresco on 104th, with activities on the street ranging from an outdoor fashion show to yoga (on grass to boot!), and indoor wine and port tastings.

104th Street

After visiting the City Centre Market on Saturday, however, I didn’t stick around for the activities, choosing instead to run errands with a plan to return for their outdoor movie screening at 10pm. We really enjoyed the family-friendly Movies on the Square experience last year, and thought this would be a good opportunity to take in an adult-oriented drama instead.

Mack and I brought along chairs, and when we arrived, found that much of the good viewing real estate was taken up by a fenced patio that jutted out from TZiN. We ended up setting up our chairs just beside the patio, and threw in a donation for satisfying ice cream sandwiches, which we enjoyed while waiting for the movie to start.

2.5 storey inflatable movie screen

Big Night was a pretty good movie, with some food-centric scenes (I told Mack I now want timpano for my birthday, heh). I can’t say that I enjoyed the experience of watching it at this particular venue though – adjacent to the boisterous patio crowd who paid no attention to the fact that there was a movie screening, it was like trying to watch a movie next to a beer garden. In the end, it was just a poor set-up, something I hope the organizers will keep in mind should they attempt this again.

Ending on a Low Note: “High School Musical 4”

Mack bought me a copy of High School Musical 3: Senior Year over the weekend, and we watched it again for the second time. I really liked it when I saw it in the theatre, but I was afraid it wouldn’t hold up on repeat viewings. I am happy to report that it did!

I still think the songs are incredibly catchy, possibly even better than those in the first High School Musical. Being a sucker for dance numbers too, I love “A Night to Remember” and the reprise of “Can I Have This Dance”. As I’ve said in the past, there is something so innocent and hopeful about the series, and I can’t help but feel uplifted after I watch either film. I might even rent High School Musical 2 just to see if it’s as bad as I remember it to be.

Of course, Disney can’t seem to leave well enough alone and let the series finish on a high note, as it was released this week that they will be making a fourth film. Featuring an all-new cast (and potentially a storyline rivalry with another school – West High, perhaps?), I’m sure they will attempt to recreate the energy and excitement of the trilogy, but it just won’t be the same without the smiling faces of Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens greeting the audience. Will I watch it when it premieres on TV in 2010? Likely, but with bottom barrel expectations.

Film: “High School Musical 3: Senior Year”

Though I handily declared in my review of High School Musical 2 that I would not be shelling out cash to watch the third (and final?) instalment of the Disney franchise, I was sorely mistaken. Thankfully, I think this movie was well-worth my money, and did much in the way of redeeming the sad excuse for a second film.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year is set at East High (instead of say, a country club), and chronicles the musically-inclined friends as they ponder their futures and put on a final show together. My simple litmus test for an enjoyable movie of this calibre is whether or not it manages to put a smile of my face; it did.

Like the first film, Senior Year didn’t take itself too seriously – it was lighthearted and filled with catchy tunes. Some of the voices were obviously synthesized, but at this point, I felt I could overlook that for the spectacle of the musical numbers. There were a few “edgier” songs as well – Troy (Zac Efron) and Chad’s “The Boys Are Back”, performed in an automobile junk yard (as an homage to Stomp, perhaps?) and Efron’s anguished “Scream”, sung with lightning and strobe lights blazing in the background. Efron deserves special mention, as to both Mack and I, it seemed he was performing as if his career depended on it – he obviously put his heart and soul into this movie.

My favourite song was the clever “A Night to Remember”, which showcased the dual points of view girls and boys harbour with regards to prom night. The visual spectacle of “I Want it All” was also a high point. Mack liked the titular inclusion in the end number, “High School Musical”, but both of us wondered why the performers were made to wear their graduation gowns throughout the song – it was impossible to discern their dance movements as they flailed around, and I felt especially sorry for Vanessa Hudgens, as she was absolutely dwarfed by the cloth robe.

The movie also decided to (wisely) incorporate references and refrains to the original High School Musical, rewarding loyal audience members who have followed the franchise thus far. Mack thought this went too far, in the sense that some of the issues presented this time around were ones that had already been dealt with, such as Troy’s overbearing father.

While I won’t be running out to buy the soundtrack or the DVD when it is released, I am happy that the movies that bookend the trilogy are as positive and enjoyable as they are. If I ever feel the need to taste innocence and unbounded optimism, I know where to turn.