Imagine watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi in a movie theater on an empty stomach. It would be torture. All that raw fish, expertly prepared by a master? Your stomach would growl so loudly your fellow audience members would report you to an usher.

That’s why man created “dinner and a movie,” a concept that George Motz has evolved even further with his Food Film Festival, which showcases some of the best foodie short films being made.

This isn’t the Cinebarre experience, folks. “At the exact moment you say to yourself, ‘I wonder what that tastes like,’ it’s right in front of you,” Motz explains. “Everything’s timed. The success of our fest is based on the timed release of the very specific food that you see in the film.”

Motz is the filmmaker behind the foodie docs Hamburger America (its plot is self-explanatory) and The Mud and the Blood (about the Lowcountry’s oyster roast traditions). When the former was released in 2004, a restaurateur friend of Motz’s suggested they show the film while serving some of its more unusual burgers from around the country. The night was a big hit and kicked off what would become the Food Film Festival.

“It’s very visceral,” Motz says of the experience. “It’s very real and it’s happening to you. You actually experience food in a whole different way. People these days love to be able to see where their food comes from, who’s making it, who these purveyors are, where they’re getting their ingredients, their sources. Because of that, that just makes your food taste better.”

As the festival grows, that recipe seems to be working. It’s now in its seventh year in New York, and they set up a second Chicago-based event in 2010. Both are competitive festivals, with filmmakers submitting entries. The top films will be featured in the fest’s first year in Charleston, which has been curated in an exhibition style.

“We wanted to create programs that would best represent what we do in New York and Chicago,” Motz says. “Sort of give people a taste — if you will — of what we can accomplish.” This weekend, the Food Film Festival will balance local and non-local food films and chefs during the screenings in GrowFood Carolina’s warehouse.

“We like to showcase the best of what a city has to offer on one night, then import signature dishes and chefs from distant locales for the next night,” Executive Producer Seth Unger says.

In Charleston, though, things are working in the opposite order. For Edible Adventure #007: International Meal of Mystery on May 10, the nine films in the program cover everything from artisanal bread to maple syrup taffy. One of the night’s highlights is Ramen Dreams, director Michael McAteer’s ode to ramen aficionado Keizo Shimamoto, who is traveling to Charleston all the way from Tokyo just to serve up his signature dish.

“Once you’ve had real ramen from Tokyo from a ramen master, you’ve entered a whole new level,” Motz says. “Nothing else compares. People are going to be able to see him on the screen discussing passionately what goes into great ramen, and right after the screening you’re going to be enjoying the actual ramen from Keizo himself.”

Meanwhile, Charleston’s own Josh Walker of Xiao Bao Biscuit will cook up a bite inspired by the film. Amanda Cohen of New York’s Dirt Candy will also be there, cooking food for the screening and the VIP pre-party.

Then the South will shine on May 11 during Hot Southern Shorts! For the film Mr. Okra, about New Orleans produce vendor Arthur Robinson, Hominy Grill chef Robert Stehling will make a variation on an okra beignet. “There wasn’t really much okra in the movie — it was more about Mr. Okra the personality,” Stehling says, so he’s going with a Big Easy flavor. “This is a savory beignet, which is just another name for fritter.”

Stehling popped up at the New York Food Film Festival last fall, serving Hominy dishes at a Lowcountry boil on a Williamburg rooftop. He says the festival is a multisensory experience. “The movie is visual and audio, and then having the actual food there really adds the taste component and heightens the experience,” Stehling says. “It’s just fun to have dinner and a show and to combine something that’s very focused with the actual movie. It makes it more interesting and challenging and special.”

Stehling will be joined by WildFlour Pastry’s Lauren Mitterer, who’s interpreting Mama Sugar’s Sweet Potato Cobbler, while The Grocery’s Kevin Johnson will take over the reins from Cohen at the VIP party. The fest will conclude with a Lowcountry boil served up by Motz’s The Mud and the Blood subjects, Bulls Bay Oyster Roasts, and he’s premiering his newest documentary about Lowcountry shrimping that evening. “No one’s really told the story about what’s going on in the shrimping industry right now and why it’s so important to eat local shrimp,” Motz says. “This film’s about the people behind local shrimp.”

While the Food Film Festival typically holds one-off events around the country, Charleston’s version is meant to join the annual ranks of New York and Chicago. Motz wants to host events in our city indefinitely.

“It’s a great cultural city that, in my mind, gets it before just about anybody else,” he says.


Fri. May 10

• $50, $75 (VIP seats and pre-party with Dirt Candy’s Amanda Cohen)

Sat. May 11

• $60, $75 (VIP seats and pre-party with The Grocery’s Kevin Johnson)

• $135/festival-wide passes, which include VIP access to all events

All tickets include entry to film screenings, in-theater food service, and food and beverages at the after-party

Fri. May 10

Edible Adventure #007: International Meal of Mystery, featuring:

• Artisan Baker (Una Morera)

• The Benevolent Baker: Doughnuts (Scott Pitts)

• Pastry Paris, (Joel Herm and Susan Hochbaum)

• Ramen Dreams (Michael McAteer)

• Sugar Shack (James Boo and Ian Parker)

• Vegetable: Friend or Foe? (Grady Hendrix)

• What’s ‘Virgin’ Mean (Michael Davies)

• XXX (Joe Pacheo and Stavros Stavropoulos)

• Zergut (Natasha Subramaniam and Alisa Lapidus)

Sat. May 11

Hot Southern Shorts!, featuring:

• George Motz’s film on Lowcountry shrimping

• Mama Sugar’s Sweet Potato Cobbler (Keeley Steenson)

• Mickle’s Pickle (Nathan Wills)

• Mr. Okra (T.G. Herrington)

• XXX (Joe Pacheo and Stavros Stavropoulos)

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