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A Magazine for Sheffield

"A mouth-watering cinematic celebration": Foodie flicks at the Showroom

Local foodie, cinephile and programme curator Ryan Finnigan tells us about the Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner: Food on Film programme 'menu', running from March to May at the Sheffield cinema.


Fukumi Kuroda and Kôji Yakusho in Tampopo (1985).

Itami Productions / New Century Productions

"A mouth-watering cinematic celebration of food in cinema," the Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner: Food on Film season at the Showroom Cinema has been curated by Ryan Finningan, a PhD Candidate at Sheffield Hallam University researching film preservation and restoration. Ryan is also the creator of @HotFoodSheffield on Instagram, a food blog about Sheffield restaurants and cuisines.

I caught up with Ryan to find out more about his passion for film and what he recommends from the smorgasbord of flicks available from March to May at the Showroom.

What can we expect from the Food on Film season?

The season will explore the various roles that food plays in film and how food and film influence one another.

The menu of screenings opens with a double bill of Les Blank documentaries, Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers and Yum, Yum, Yum! A Taste of Cajun and Creole Cooking. Exploring food as a film subject, the accompanying discussion will look at documentaries and films covering food itself, including the history, appreciation and ethics of food.

The 'main course' offering of Juzo Itami’s Tampopo may well be the only ‘Ramen Western’ in film history, offering an unforgettably off-kilter twist on the western genre and an education in the art of ramen. Alongside the film, this session will explore how food has been used to enhance and subvert film genres, and how it has often been used as a political or intellectual motif.

Our Chef’s Special is arguably the most beautifully observed and authentic depiction of running a restaurant, Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott’s Big Night. It lovingly depicts the creative care and passionate attention paid to the professional preparation of food, making for a charming and hilarious delight for food lovers. The accompanying discussion will look at the meticulous craft of food creation and depiction of chefs in cinema.

Finally, a celebration of all things sweet with Adrienne Shelley’s perfectly-baked Waitress, the ideal ending to a good meal. This final accompanying session is designed to indulge in the escapism of both food and film, looking at the creation of pleasure and how cinema has lovingly captured food.

Why did you decide to curate a collection of food films?

I was originally asked by Sheffield Hallam University to pitch some ideas for a Film Studies season and the combination of food and film are the two things I have loved and enjoyed the most throughout my life. So it made sense to combine them.

Luckily Hallam liked it too and it was given the go ahead – and then it was promptly put on hold due to Covid!

During the three years the season was on hold, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. In the meantime, I started to write about food as a hobby and researched films on the subject even more. I was absolutely thrilled when the Showroom re-opened and I’m very pleased to do the season in its new, improved form.

How did you select the films?

I tried to theme the season around the structure of a menu, but also looked to provide a different theme for the accompanying lecture each week as well. It was particularly difficult to choose just a small shortlist of films for each week, but I am very pleased to have ended up with my first-choice film for every single week.

It was important to me also to try and get a different style of cuisine for each film. I didn’t just want four films about desserts or burgers or chefs or truffles, which would be surprisingly easy to do.

Why do you think food in film is powerful as a storytelling medium?

Food is universal. Everybody breathes, everybody bleeds, everybody eats. Even from the very beginnings of cinema, early shorts like 1895’s Baby’s Meal put the act of feeding, eating and nurturing on screen. As the medium has spread globally, it’s been an aspect of all cultures that has translated to the screen.

Food inherently carries social and political meaning and is a strong visual motif: a hungry Charlie Chaplin eating his shoe in The Gold Rush; the children of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory getting their comeuppance for greed; or Jeanne Dielman preparing food in real-time, revealing the tedium of household repetition.

On a lighter note, food is spectacle, setting and belly laughs.

The thing I enjoy the most about food, and why I’m so interested in it, outside of pleasure, is that it brings people together. In the same way that world cinema gave me a window into cultures and viewpoints beyond my own experience, food acts as a window into other people’s lives, their tastes and their heritage.

Anthony Bourdain is often quoted as saying, “You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together,” and I have found that to be true. Food on film often acts as a catalyst for this discovery.

Perhaps the only downside is that, as yet, we cannot taste the moving image.

What are your recommendations for the one film people should watch in this season?

I discovered the documentaries of Les Blank several years ago and his films are very human and often feature on food or music. I found that his sensibility very much resonated with my own and he became an instant favourite director of mine as I saw more and more of his films. It has been a great honour to work with the late director’s family on bringing a double bill of his documentaries to the big screen.

To me, Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers is not just one of my favourite films about food, but one of the great documentaries on any subject. I love that it interrogates the subject of garlic in such a thorough and interesting way, and each scene and the people of the film are all brilliant. I could watch it over and over and I think that is the film I would most like people to see. I also happen to love garlic, which helps.

Do you have other favourite films about food?

So, so many. I would have loved to have played more food documentaries. There are so many well-known classics, like Jiro Dreams of Sushi or The Truffle Hunters, that could have been selected but I was trying to look beyond those for a lesser-trodden title.

I recommend City of Gold, about the food critic Jonathan Gold, very highly. I also considered the films Chef Flynn, about a prodigious child chef, and the more obscurely-titled I Like Killing Flies, about the infamously chaotic restaurateur Kenny Shopsin.

Outside of documentaries, My Dinner with Andre, The Exterminating Angel, Phantom Thread and Daisies immediately spring to mind. Also, Pixar’s Ratatouille is just perfect.

The Menu

STARTER – 22 March – Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers (1980) and Yum, Yum, Yum! A Taste of Cajun and Creole Cooking (1990)

MAIN – 5 April – Tampopo (1985)

CHEF'S SPECIAL 19 April – Big Night (1996)

DESSERT 3 May – Waitress (2007)

More Food

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