With 16 restaurants and a number of wineries, cheesemakers, and farmers' markets, the tiny, two-street town of Wolfville in Nova Scotia is definitely a food destination all on its own. But it’s during November, with Devour! The Food Film Fest, a biennial five-day extravaganza, that the town really goes all out to win international food glory.
Begun in 2009 as part of Nova Scotia’s Slow Food chapter, Devour! is a relatively new fixture on the gastronomic calendar that celebrates the relationship between cinema, food, and wine. From Nov. 13 to 17, this year’s festival will feature 30 new food-focused documentaries and fictional dramas chosen among 200 entries from all over the world. The films will be paired with food truck rallies, dinner galas with celebrity chefs like Craig Flinn and Jesse Vergen, brunches inspired by movie classics such as Like Water for Chocolate, pop-up bars, and visits to local cheesemakers and wineries.
"The whole thing about our festival is that we are going to have food in every touch point," said Michael Howell, one of Canada’s most pre-eminent chefs and the founder of Devour!. "From high-end galas with celebrity chefs to food truck rallies and a cinema-inspired hangover brunch at a farmers' market, there is going to be food everywhere."
According to Lia Rinaldo, the festival’s managing director, Devour! is "a real smorgasbord of offerings." Organized as a three-course meal, the festival will kick off with the region’s top 11 chefs catering the opening gala reception — the event’s appetizer — and the region’s culinary students will put out all sorts of decadent desserts on the last evening for a sweet hereafter. The meat of the event will be the main course, during which visitors will be able to watch films such L’amour des Moules (Mussels in Love), a behind-the-scenes story on the life of mussels, from beginning to end, graphic mussel-sex included. After the screening, viewers will be ushered to a special five-course mussel menu created by seafood experts chef Danny St.-Pierre and chef Sean Laceby.
But, unlike other similar events, Devour! doesn’t want to be all about food porn. "It is meant to be a food festival that really explores the ethics of food," said Howell. "We want to raise awareness of where our food comes from and the impact our eating habits have on the world."
Whether they are fiction or investigative, most of the festivals’ films reflect on food issues. At Any Price tells the fictional story of Henry Whipple, a man who struggles to save his family’s farming empire in a world where food production is controlled by a handful of corporations. Sikh Formaggio, a short Italian-American production, documents the increasing number of Sikhs moving to Italy and getting involved in the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Markus Imhoof’s More Than Honey explores what people are doing to stop the global decline in bee colonies, and The Last Catch delves deep into the European bluefin tuna’s impeding extinction.
For James Beard Award-winning filmmaker Mirra Fine, who will be showing seven films at Devour!, the festival is a great opportunity to share some of her most controversial work, such as Time for Foie Gras, a short documentary that explores humane ways of producing the delicacy. It’s also a way to encourage serious conversations about food. "It’s really cool that there is a community of like-minded filmmakers, producers, and chefs, and that we have the opportunity to get together, eat, and share stories and ideas," she said.
Howell and Rinaldo expect that Devour! being part of the global food conversation will lead to greater things in the future. They have a vision: They want Devour! to also be the place for business. "Our vision is to become the Sundance for food film," said Howell. "The place to do movie deals and for distributors to release the films."
And they might be getting there. In just two editions, Devour! has gone from being a three-day event, selling 1,000 tickets, and raising $25,000 to having twice as many visitors, raising $40,000, and attracting movie stars such as Jason Priestley and industry executives such as Laurie Barnett, Anthony Bourdain’s creative partner. "I don’t want to jinx it," said Howell, "but I think we’re onto something."