January 12, 2017

SCREEN | Feasting on the 'Theater of Life'

"What if food waste could feed the hungry?"
Massimo Bottura Refettorio Ambrosiano | Peter Svatek NFB | Theater of Life

Downtown—(January 9, 2017) Produced by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), Theater of Life follows famed Italian chef turned activist Massimo Bottura and his Refettorio Ambrosiano soup kitchen during Expo Milano in 2015. The documentary directed by MontrĂ©al filmmaker Peter Svatek explores ideals of feeding those most vulnerable while using repurposed food waste and the connections made with the local population being served.

Bottur is also best known for his Osteria Francescana restaurant in Modena, once named the world's best restaurant, alongside his three Michelin star distinction and pedigree. His efforts with Food for Soul are explored through small personal stories of the people he feeds daily, mostly displaced European-African refugees, recovering drug addicts, former sex workers, and others in need.

Svatek's many stories balancing famous visiting chefs with following the characters from the streets of Greco, a disadvantaged neighbourhood in the suburbs of Milan, aren't always seamlessly executed but are generally earnest in their genuine exploration of human portraits set to different Italian-language covers of Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone". While appearing like a typical fancy restaurant, Refettorio is still presented as an experimental soup kitchen that becomes more of a community hub and destination for locals to come together.

Massimo Bottura Refettorio Ambrosiano | Peter Svatek NFB | Theater of Life

The documentary is most successful when it thoughtfully and quietly expresses the human connections made possible by the communal act of dining at Refettorio. Fine dining culture is presented almost superfluously as renowned chefs from all over the world relish the chance to feed unassuming diners enjoying upscale dishes made from ingredients destined for the dumpster. Otherwise, its message of "social gastronomy" only ever really superficially addresses the very basic issues around food sustainability and the ongoing gentrification of cities.

At the Vancouver premiere, local chefs David Gunawan of Royal Dinette (known for his Ugly Duckling dinners), Brian Luptak of The Acorn and Robert Clarke of sister restaurant The Arbor served dishes made from restaurant scraps to further highlight the creative repurposing of food waste presented in the film.

Theatre of Life premiered at the 2016 Vancouver Italian Film Festival gala launch co-presented by VIFF and Il Centro Italian Cultural Centre at Vancity Theatre in the Vancouver International Film Centre (with additional screenings scheduled).

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