Food Films Feed Friends and Family: Q&A With George Motz

Six years ago, George Motz, the man behind the Hamburger America film and book, and chef Henry Hawk, formally of Schnack, decided to cook up some food to go with a screening of Motz’s movie. That spread into more films paired with food, and finally, the boys left their ramshackle perch on Water Taxi Beach and moved up in the venue spectrum. Now, their Food Film Festival is housed in a real theater, and runs from October 17 to the 21, with events ranging from whiskey tastings to go with films about bourbon, oysters for a documentary about the bivalve, and a whole day dedicated to Japan. This is one movie event where popcorn isn’t on the menu, and Motz happily told us all about it.

Over the years, you guys have really blown up.
It has definitely gotten bigger, but also better. I promised one day we would be as big and bloated as the Sundance Film Festival. We have the comfy seats and the theater, but we are not as big as Sundance, yet this year is going to be bigger than last year. It runs for five days, with six major events, and smaller events that go with it.

We got really big like two years ago and the festival was almost too big. We had to scale back, and I am happy where we are now. I can’t believe we are in year number six and year three in Chicago. We’ll have a third city coming soon, which we are going to make an announcement about at the festival.

How do you pick your films?
The selection committee and the selection staff look for films that celebrate food, and we look for films where can have meals to prepare. Anyone can make a food film, but what’s amazing is how many subjects are out there. I like to educate the audience, and whenever you can teach a know-it-all New Yorker, I believe it’s a success. We have a smart audience and they expect a lot from us.

This year, we are having a Japanese food experience called I Heart Japan, and we aren’t serving sushi, but rather ramen, tebasaki, and other dishes. We have a film about Keizo Shimamoto, a ramen chef that started a ramen blog that became very popular; actually, there is a restaurant in Brooklyn that opened because of the blog—it’s called Dessara.

Anyway, we asked if he wanted to come in for the event and he said absolutely. Now, Sun Noodle is sponsoring the Chef Keizo Ramen Experience. We are also showing a film about teriyaki; it’s basically the hot dog of Osaka, Japan.

What about the food porn event?
Last year, all these films came in that were these short films with beautiful images of food set to soundtrack. There was so much of it that we needed to create an event that shows food porn. Last year it sold out immediately. We even created a new award for the category.

What is food porn exactly?
The part of your brain that appreciates sexual pornography is the same part that responds to beautiful shots of food. It’s an actual thing. Food is a turn-on.

What food do you pair with food porn?
You should look at the list. But one dish is for this very bizarre film called Dog Eats Dream [trailer below], which is about this dog that is dreaming about a sandwich. Then the sandwich comes to life and he eats the sandwich.

Other films to look forward to?
We are showing a film about deep fried tofurky. Also, two films by Scott Pitts; he made two beautiful short shorts—one about a doughnut and one about bacon. This bacon is so beautiful it makes you want to eat it raw. We are serving filet of beef wrapped in bacon.

How do you choose the food?
We try to bring every single film to life. Whether it’s having the food there, the filmmaker there, or the star there. Physically, it’s impossible to serve that much food in that time frame.

How do you handle that many people and dishes?
One of the reasons we are really good at what we do is that we are all kinds of crazy. That, and everything is timed through walkie-talkies. You will suddenly hear, “Release the cookies, release the cookies.” The entire thing is timed to the second.

It’s changed a lot since you started. How did that come to be?
A colleague named Seth Unger said, ‘This is bullshit, I should have this food in my hand now.” He is a friend who is a very talented event producer, and he said he could make the event better, and he did.

The key is, we make sure we don’t run out of anything. There is always way too much food and too much booze. We know what it’s like to be at food event and not have anything to eat. But that doesn’t happen to us. There will be people with trays going along the line with wine or beer as you wait. We really try to pay attention to the customer experience.

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