Tribeca & Hot Docs 2020 Documentary Special Presentation: Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles Review


BY: Amanda Guarragi

The recipe is not that good, if it doesn’t include a story.” 

Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles is a documentation of how food is a very important part of history and how that fusion can be modernized. Food and Art History intersect at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Laura Gabbert’s documentary. In 2018, the MET decided to open their “Visitors to Versailles” exhibit to the public, with a culinary event inspired by Louis XIV’s elaborate lifestyle. Yotam Ottolenghi accepted the challenge and selected five of the world’s most innovative, visionary pastry chefs through social media, to whip up desserts worthy of Marie Antoniette herself.

Ottolenghi wanted to preserve history through the pastry dishes, while modernizing the delicacies from that century for the “Visitors of Versailles” exhibit. He handpicked five pastry chefs that used architecture and history to create unique pastries through instagram. The integration of social media was beneficial because it has become a portfolio for so many people in the arts and it’s such a useful tool to get your name/brand out there. Dinara Kasko of Ukraine designs 3D printed moulds, while Singapore’s Janice Wong confects with chocolate. London conceptual artists Sam Bompas and Harry Parr sculpt wobbly gelatin. Ghaya Oliveira of Michelin-starred Daniel in New York City and “cronut” creator Dominique Ansel reinvent French pastries.

Laura Gabbert wanted to showcase the beauty and the dark history of Versailles during the run of Louis XIV. She did this by having Ottolenghi take the audience on his research journey, by speaking to history experts on Versailles and Marie Antoniette’s downfall. There was such a passion and appreciation for that period of history by the experts and by Ottolenghi, that it made it so much more engaging to watch. The passion for creating dishes and the importance of historical figures were brought together to present a story. Ottolenghi values history and the way food has grown with each culture all over the world.

The history and culture of the world is definitely embedded in food and dishes that chefs have created. We all associate certain dishes to countries and that adds the historical depth to its people. This feature does an incredible job in showcasing the beauty of Versailles, how the French pastries were originally created and where they were redistributed in Europe. It’s so fascinating to see where delicacies originated from and how much they have evolved in the modern era. One line that stood out to me, was that food was used as a ceremony in that century. Now instead of people inviting others into their homes to see their meals, they have posted their process on the internet for others to see. Food brings everyone together and the more we study the art of cooking and baking, there are endless possibilities in how to improve upon these dishes.

I also loved the way this feature was filmed. They really captured the beautiful colour tones and textures of everything in the frame, especially the beauty of Versailles and the dishes. Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles takes the viewer on a stunning journey of art history and french delicacies in a very extravagant way. They show every single detail and the importance of being an artist. There is no history without art and art can take many forms, including food dishes. It’s important to know and understand that preparing dishes on such a large scale, takes an artistic eye, but also an architectural one and it allows audiences to gain a new appreciation for art as an important medium.

 

 

 

The Longest War Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

The Longest War is directed by Emmy-winning director, Greg Barker and Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon. The documentary was televised right after the series finale of Homeland on Sunday night and unpacks the CIA’s long and morally complicated history in Afghanistan. This fight had been going on for two decades and the timeline that was shown, highlighting each President discussing the issue put the longevity of this war into perspective. The question that often arises is “Why were they there?” and this documentary definitely explores that jam packed question.

The documentary goes into the depths of the battle in Afghanistan by highlighting key moments, which made an impact for the trajectory of this war. It began with the United States stepping in, to get the Soviets out of the country by supplying them with weapons to fight extremist groups. After the Soviets left, Afghanistan had control of weapons and the country faced a Civil War with the Taliban emerging. Shortly after, Al Qaeda made its presence known and Osama Bin Laden was their leader.

During all this, President Bill Clinton was the Leader of the Free World and did nothing to stop this. It seemed as it was a domino effect because people question would question the aftermath of one decision. What if President Clinton went after him? Would things have been different? Would 9/11 have even happened? Would the U.S. Troops be there without cause or reason after 2 decades? These are the questions that are addressed in The Longest War and I was so invested in knowing the truth.

What I think was incredibly beneficial of the storytelling in this documentary was the detailed interviews on both sides of the fence. It was such a balanced discussion between CIA operatives, U.S Troops, Journalists and the Afghan people that it covered all the bases. At times, the editing allowed for two opposing answers, to counter each other and present an argument, without having those people face each other in the same room. The integration of stock footage was done seamlessly and showed the destruction of Afghanistan, by extremist groups and the United States.

Barker also highlighted the importance of Journalists and their bravery when reporting in warzones. Anyone who old the truth was at risk. The television station and media outlets that started production in Afghanistan after the US stepped in, were reporting on the Taliban and ended up losing thirteen people from their team to violence. The truth is, and always will be, a powerful tool and it’s up to Journalists and the media to cover history in the most honest way because their words will be remembered.

Afghanistan is a very young country and they are the future. They’ve only known what a war torn country looks like and have never been able to know peace with their own people. The battle in Afghanistan will forever be the most confusing, life altering and questionable battle that the United States had to endure. It doesn’t help that the CIA took matters into their own hands and made some very violent decisions when interrogating people in the extremist groups. What started out as a peace mission to redevelop Afghanistan, ended up being one of the most scarring events in U.S. history, which changed the way the United States was viewed by the world forever.

 

SXSW 2020 Documentary Feature: An Elephant in the Room

photos courtesy of Good Company Pictures

By: Amanda Guarragi 

An Elephant in the Room focuses on a holistic way of dealing with grief at a centre called “Good Grief” in New Jersey. In this documentary, Katrine Philp shares the stories of six children and their companions who have lost their parents. It shows many different approaches in handling grief and acts as a catharsis for everyone involved, including the viewer.

At “Good Grief”, these children are able to discover a community that has suffered a great loss, just like they have. As we all know, children ask many questions because of their curiosity, but what happens when they start asking about death? It’s hard for anyone to understand how to process death, it’s definitely harder to try and explain to a six year old child that they can never see their parents again. So how do you begin to explain or even discuss death of a loved one with an innocent child? That’s what this documentary does so well, it educates everyone involved in the process of moving forward after the death of a loved one.

There are exercises shown in this documentary that “Good Grief” executes in their classes that truly help the children. It’s also incredibly tough to watch these children express their emotions because of the circumstances. They openly speak about their emotions, even when they can’t make sense of what they’re feeling in their hearts. It’s heartbreaking to watch them go about their everyday lives, while still processing the meaning of grief.

The documentary felt like it was filmed from a child’s perspective and the frames were filled with soft colours and warm tones. It was also nice to see the children interact on a spiritual level with their parents, it was definitely the emotional center of the film. It also shows that everyone needs love and affection from their loved ones, especially those who are hurting and don’t know how to express their grief.

An Elephant in the Room will take you on an emotional journey with these young children and will make you reminisce on how you processed your own grief. “Good Grief” is an organization that deserves more recognition for what they are doing because they are giving children a safe space to express their pain. Children are affected by everything and need to be guided during difficult times.

SXSW 2020 Documentary Feature Competition: We Don’t Deserve Dogs

We Don’t Deserve Dogs is a heartwarming documentary about how much of an impact dogs make on humans. Director, Matthew Salleh travels around the globe and finds such intimate stories about dogs and their owners. Dogs are such incredible animals and we don’t realize how selfless they are. Unless you are a pet owner or genuinely love animals, you won’t understand the beautiful connection that is formed with a dog.

This documentary was very emotional because of the stories that were chosen from around the world. It showed that the love for a dog is universal and each person who has a dog as a pet, feeds of off their calming energy in order to restore balance to their own mind. People who suffer from mental illnesses feel safe when there is a dog in their lives. The documentary highlights stories from different cultures who live in war torn countries and see dogs as support animals, for those who suffer from post traumatic stress disorders, or those who live in countries that host birthday parties for their pups, or even cultures who don’t see dogs as pets at all.

Salleh integrated so many cultures and the transitions between stories flowed quite nicely. I loved that certain shots were from the dogs point of view, there were some lovely shots of the dogs walking the street or playing in an open field. What was beautiful about this piece was the direct emotional connection the audience gets from the owner on screen. The subject is placed in the centre, with the dog laying directly beside them and you could feel their connection through the screen.

Dogs are such beautiful creatures and this is possibly my favourite documentary involving animals. It’s all about finding a universal human connection and Salleh found it through the special emotional relationship humans have with dogs. It was also lovely to see how different cultures accept the dogs into their homes or work environments. Every single story about dogs is in this documentary, from how owners treat them to cultures not accepting them as pets, to other countries allowing them in to pubs and even businesses having them as guard dogs.

This documentary is so special and I loved every single story that was chosen to show how important dogs can be. Dogs are more than animals you entertain or play with, they definitely sense how their owner is feeling and even the slightest emotional shift will affect them. Dogs will love you unconditionally and always be there for you in your darkest times to lift you back up. They truly are mans best friend and everyone deserves to treat them as a family member.