June 23, 2010
Part I – Getting Started
Hello! My name is Sara DeForest and I just finished co-producing a documentary about the local food movement in Boston. Signe asked me to join the blogosphere and talk about my experience making this film.
The documentary came about as a senior capstone project for my communications minor at Tufts. I had an interest in cooking and the different food movements that were popping up, and I wanted to learn more. Honestly, when the project started I was very skeptical of “organic”, “local” and the other buzzwords, seeing the movement as elitist. I thought the words were marketing tools, and I hated feeling guilty for not supporting them, but didn’t know why. I thought this project could be a great way for me to learn about the food movement and help me decide whether or not to support it myself. It didn’t take long until I was convinced that building a local food system isn’t just a good idea, but a necessary one.
Our topic brought up some logistical challenges. The growing season does not coincide with the academic year, so there was no way we could get footage of planting or harvesting crops. This was a little disappointing, but it made us look for the many other ways consumers can experience local food in the Boston area – through markets, dinner parties, CSAs and the like. After catching a late farmer’s market in November we made it to Meat Meet in Cambridge, and so the project began.
Cleverly named events are just one of the local food movement’s strengths. At the Meat Meet, organized by JJ Gonson (Cusine en Locale) and Stillman’s Farm of Hardwick, Mass., customers gather in a parking lot in Central Square to take their pick of the farm’s delicious, humanely treated and grass-fed meat. I was more inspired to film the interactions between customers than between farmer and eater. I had gone to Meat Meet once before and was moved by the friendliness of the people. They were swapping recipes and debating over the best way to pull pork as they waited for a half hour or so in line. The sense of community here is just so apparent, and I couldn’t help but believe that it was because of the local food. No one is that social at a supermarket. It’s the idea of sustainability and a love for cooking and an appreciation for really high quality, healthy food that brought these people together.
One week before the Super Bowl, the Boston Localvores hosted the 2nd annual “Souper Bowl” at the Haley House in Roxbury. Six different chef/friends volunteered to make six different soups with the promise of all local ingredients. Soups are ideal in the winter, as the variety of root vegetables (squash, parsnips, carrots), beans and meat during this season come together for three advantages: warming your kitchen, making your house smell good and providing a hearty meal. There was an exciting range of soups at this event, including matzoh ball soup, bean soup, squash soup and a delicious apple dessert soup. The ingredients for the soups were mostly donated from local restaurants and farms. Having food as a research topic can be a good deal – we had a chance to take a break from filming and sample the soups ourselves! Also featured at the event were local cheeses, chocolate made in Somerville, pickles and yummy yummy bread from a local bakery. All of this was labeled so attendees could appreciate where their food came from, and realize that it is possible, despite all the nay-sayers, to eat a locally grown meal during the winter.
Part II – Interviews
After getting some more footage for B-roll, it was time to start the interviews. It’s amazing how interconnected local food activists are. They all knew each other, and recommended more people to get in touch with.
My film partner Scott and I did our first full-length, sit-down interview with JJ Gonson, personal chef and extreme localvore. Outspoken and animated, she was the perfect person to talk with first. It was a sunny March day, so we sat outside her house to enjoy the crisp, Spring enticing air. This proved to be a rough decision. As Boston Marches go, we were all freezing 10 minutes into the interview. We powered through and ended up with about 50 minutes of quality material. JJ was vented about the bad parts of industrial, conventional agriculture and elaborated on the advantages of local food. Local is better for the environment, it’s better for our health, it puts money into our neighborhoods, it tastes better, and it provides opportunities for social interaction around food that are hard to come by these days.
Our second interview was with Jamey Lionette, former owner of Lionette’s Market in South Boston. Jamey was our token “radical” in the film, which was an important angle to have. He thrives on the “doom and gloom” strategy, trying to scare people into eating sustainably, threatening the world’s collapse. According to him, local food offerings at Shaws or other chain supermarkets is a deal with the devil. Whole Foods is even worse because it tricks people into thinking they are doing something good, while they really support the huge, monoculture food industry. I also remember him saying, “We have two options – we can either shut down all the supermarkets, or we can riot.” His ideas are a little impractical, and a bit frustrating when we’re trying to encourage people who don’t know anything about local food to support it. Newbies might be intimidated by these extreme views, or just think that local food activists are crazy. However, Jamey was great for the film because he’ll grab people’s attention. And overall he is right: we have to make a radical change.
John Lee, the director of Allandale Farm in Brookline, was next. Really a fantastic guy; he had thoughtful and important things to say. He thinks there is a great need for restaurants that feature New England foods on their menus, arguing that restaurants can create a market, which is essential to the movement and the support of local farms. People eat blue hubbard squash at a restaurant, like it, and want to try cooking it themselves, so they go to their farmers market and buy it there. He also had a wonderful and moving perspective about our lifestyle today. We need to slowwww downnnn and spend more time interacting face-to-face with people. He believes building relationships with people will profoundly affect our relationship with food. As he was talking about this idea I pictured it ending our documentary. It was well put and beautiful.
The next interview we did was with Tony Maws, the chef and proprietor at Craigie on Main restaurant in Cambridge. We wanted to get a chef’s perspective on the local food movement, as a big benefit of local food is its taste. A nice guy, although a bit dry, Tony and had some powerful opinions. The interview was shorter than most because he was very succinct and to the point. While Tony talked, his chefs were buzzing around prepping things and making for an exciting background. Tony talked a bit about the taste of local food, and made a point to say he buys food seasonally, which is an important concept in our film and in the local movement in general, and is a rarity in restaurant fair.
Scott and I had come up with questions that were geared toward explaining what local food is, why it is important to eat locally and how someone can support it in the Boston area. At that point, we still didn’t really have a central story yet. I was hoping that once we interviewed everyone and listened to what they had to say, the story would just kind of unfold. Possibly poor planning, but it all came together once we started editing.
Part III – Making Something into Something Worth Watching
It’s crunch time. My favorite part of filmmaking – editing. We had less than two weeks to make a rough draft, and a lot of work ahead of us.
Scott and I made an outline for the story. We decided goal of the film would be to define local food, demonstrate why it’s important, and offer ways viewers could support it in the Boston are. However, we needed to get more specific. We broke down the “importance” section into five topics – environment, health, community building, social change and slowing down. We ended up combining taste with health, because it’s a nice segue into nutrition. Lastly, our “slow down” segment would talk about the importance of sitting down and sharing a meal as a step toward and “having as much a relationship with the food on your plate as with the people at your table,” as John Lee said.
Scott and I edited the first section “environment” together. It was tough and frustrating, like trying to run through water. We kept disagreeing on the details. It took forever to finish and left us in a panicked state-it was Friday and the rough cut was due at the end of the weekend. Scott had the brilliant idea to network the two computers so we could edit in tandem. It worked out really well and increased our productivity level 200%. When we worked separately, we came out with great stuff without having to argue about it. We’re both good at what we do, but we have very different editing styles. When we worked on different computers we were able to ask each other for advice and input without stepping on each others toes.
We turned in our rough draft and received a lot constructive criticism. It was a little disappointing, but we realized that we really should make a lot of changes. We altered the whole structure of our film. Instead of having a ton of “minor characters” (people we talked with briefly at events) we focused solely on our four major interviewees – JJ, Jamey, John and Tony. This gave them more authority throughout the film and simplified the story. We also decided that ending on “slowing down” would make everyone a little depressed, and we wanted to leave viewers feeling uplifted. As a last-minute decision, we finished with the “social change” section, which talks about the steps people can take to support a local food system.
It was a ton of work, but we came out with something we’re really proud of. Scott and I got to screen “Know Your Roots: Eat Local” at Tufts, and also at the Haley House Cafe in Roxbury for their dinner and a movie night, which was really exciting and unexpected publicity. Now I am off to start a post-grad life in New York City, where there is a great farmer’s market system and I can continue making good food choices.
So finally, here’s what you’ve all been waiting for – the final product:
Thanks for reading my ramblings and keep eating local!