It was eight years ago that acclaimed burger aficionado George Motz took his cult-followed Hamburger America to the small screen in a friend’s restaurant in Long Island City. The idea behind Motz’s take on this dinner-and-a-movie experience was that he thought it would be fun to show a film about food and serve the audience the very food they were watching. The screening of Hamburger America and the multi-sensory food-film experience was a huge success. Motz realized he had created a unique and delicious blending of his two strongest passions, and so was born the New York City Food and Film Festival (NYCFFF), making its way to NYC for the seventh year this October.
The five-day event, which Motz is proud to deem “a perfect marriage of his two favorite talents,” is unlike any other festival in the world, attracting a niche audience of food-film enthusiasts to gather and feed their bellies with art, film, knowledge and delicious fare. Each date hosts a separate day and evening event, and each event is themed based on the collection of short and feature films, all food based, that are strung together to create what Motz describes as a “three-course meal in your seat.” The first few films are considered the appetizer portion since the content of the films and the food each guest is served falls under the hors d’oeuvres umbrella, same goes for the following dinner course and dessert to finish. All the while, spirits can be enjoyed at the in-theater bar.
Motz, an Emmy Award–winning director of photography and Long Island native, has taken on the role of “hamburger expert” after his film Hamburger America had an 18-month run on the Sundance Channel in 2005. The film, nominated for a James Beard Award in 2006, catapulted Motz into the food world. He has since written a book of the same title, taught a course on hamburgers at NYU and currently hosts Burger Land on the Travel Channel. His creation of the NYCFFF is a clear demonstration of his blended passions and has had a very successful run since its inception in 2007.
In 2009 Motz and his crew brought the Food and Film Festival to Chicago, where it has run four consecutive years, and each November brings together the food and film community of the Windy City to celebrate two of America’s most favorite cultures. This past May, Charleston, South Carolina, hosted its first Food and Film Festival, which was a delicious success, and now Motz can proudly say, “We’ve really started to figure it out. Each event takes on a new family, with roughly 75 to 150 people orchestrating its success, and each city we’ve visited has a food and film culture worth celebrating. We knew we were a cultural success when we saw that tickets to our events were being scalped on Craigslist.”
This year’s Farm to Film to Table event (Sunday, October 27) will showcase two films based on Long Island: Growing Farmers will make its NYC premiere and Letting Salt Just Be Salt will make its U.S. debut. The former, a short documentary about, by and for residents of the East End who value preserving land and ensuring there will be farmers to till it, tells the story of farmers who have participated in Peconic Land Trust’s Farms for the Future program. An incubator for eager first-time farmers, the initiative provides knowledge and guidance, as well as the land and necessary materials (deer fencing, irrigation, equipment and so forth) to begin and maintain a new career path. The film is directed by surf documentarian, acclaimed photographer and lifelong Water Mill resident, Michael Halsband, and centers on 20 farmers currently in the program. “I hope the film excites anyone who sees it to want to learn more about what good-quality food is and to support the farmers who put that before profit,” says Halsband. Letting Salt Just Be Salt is a short food-curated documentary about husband and wife team Steven and Natalie Judelso, artisan sea salt makers in Amagansett, one of a small handful of companies that make sea salt by hand on the East Coast and the only sea salt makers in New York State. Director Liza de Guia is thrilled to premiere at the NYCFFF, “I’m excited for their story to be shared. It’s an inspiring and educational piece that I hope will convince people to switch from iodized supermarket salt to fresh sea salt. There’s a difference not only in taste but in the texture. Plus, it’s better for you and the environment, too. All the more reason to support these great food artisans.”
“You really can’t find a more food-focused crowd than our guests, and the films are so great and so greatly appreciated by 100 percent of the audience members; we’re all there to be entertained, and we’re each given a multisensory experience that begins the moment we arrive,” Motz explains. “It’s been such a rewarding and incredible experience to be able to create and maintain a bond between people consuming food and the people that create the food being consumed.”
This year’s NYCFFF will be held October 23 to 27. For more information about the festival, the filmmakers, the food and the tickets please visit thefoodfilmfestival.com.