Music might be the food of love according to Shakespeare, but to film aficionados, movies are the food of life, and life goes on for Devour! The Food Film Fest in Wolfville this week.
Although it’s the event’s 10th year, it’s been dubbed Devour! 9.5 due to the slightly reduced scale of its offerings due to COVID-19 restrictions on travel and gatherings. And like other major arts events this year, its organizers watched the developing situation change starting with the state of emergency declared in March with an eye their fellow festivals.
“It’s been a real whirlwind, and one thing we’ve been saying all along is that we have had the luxury of time, if you can call it that,” says Devour’s managing director Lia Rinaldo, whose event hits the ground running Wednesday night with a Valley Drive-In screening of the Disney/Pixar favourite Ratatouille and virtual guest Phil Rosenthal (Netflix’s Somebody Feed Phil).
“Watching major festival giants fall, like South By Southwest, or flip to go completely online, we knew we were wading through completely muddy territory for everyone.”
Rinaldo and her team learned in May that they would have support from key funders like the province if they knew they were going to go ahead. And while it was obvious it wouldn’t be a big 10th-anniversary blow-out like they’d planned, Devour! proved to be sustainable with a streamlined schedule and a mix of online and in-person, physically distanced screenings and events.
The core of the festival is great films and food, which they could still deliver to the audience’s taste, even without massive parties and dinners or celebrity out-of-province guests as in years past.
“We looked closely at the program to see what we could produce safely, and then trundled forward with that,” says Rinaldo. “It’s still 44 events over these five days, and all the film programs — with a couple of exceptions — are available to stream or see with physically distanced seating at our main Al Whittle Theatre.
“Workshops are streamed online, but also available socially distanced in our main studio space here in downtown Wolfville, and every Communities Give Back supper event is now a to-go meal.”
There will still be familiar faces like Nova Scotia star chefs Craig Flinn and Jennifer Crawford, films like the acclaimed N.S. documentary Bread in the Bones and the Italian-American family drama Feast of the Seven Fishes, and even a livestreamed Flavour Bombs workshop with Bob Blumer teaching some culinary tricks to Call Me Fitz star Jason Priestly.
Some events, like Friday’s Beyond Terroir gathering at Benjamin Bridge winery in partnership with Glooscap First Nation, barely needed to be changed at all. Looking at the Gaspereau Valley’s unique combination of soil and climate, with culinary collaborations between the Mi’kmaq community and chefs Jason Lynch and Stephane Levac, the event is outdoors with attendees arranged in small groups, perfectly suited to physical distancing protocols.
And teaming up for the first time with the Valley Drive-In 20 minutes away in Cambridge was also a natural partnership that Rinaldo says brings a classic touch to Devour! that also allows for outdoor food and film enjoyment.
“The opening night’s going to be a lot of fun there, but what I love is this perfect example of how one of our signature events has completely morphed for COVID-19,” she says, describing the annual Chefs & Shorts Gala, taking place at the drive-in on Thursday night, which can also be streamed online.
Traditionally, the event would be a dinner for 150 at a long table in Lightfoot Winery’s barrel cellar, with five short films and a special dish to match eat one.
“Now we’ve taken that event and we’re doing the Chefs & Shorts Gala at the drive-in,” says Rinaldo. “So when people come in, they will get a bag of five numbered snacks that they can eat along with each film.
“Basically, our culinary coordinator Chef Jason Lynch and his team will be building those dishes for that night.”
One thing about trying to plan a multi-event festival in the middle of a pandemic that Rinaldo can relate to, is the way it’s made the Devour! team have to think like chefs in the kitchen and learn to improvise with the ingredients they have on hand.
“It’s made us have to be inventive and nimble, and respond in the moment to change up everything we’ve built for years,” she says. “When we had to let those big 200-person dinners go, I was completely heartbroken.
“But now I’m kind of looking at it thinking well, this seems fine too. Intimacy is good! We have the same core team for several years, and as the festival has gotten bigger and bigger, we often don’t see one another. This could be a wonderful come-together, core team-building kind of moment, when we probably needed it to inspire us for the next five years or so.”
If you go:
For a complete rundown of Devour! The Food Film Fest programming, from Wednesday’s opening drive-in gala through multiple screenings and workshops and Sunday’s closing gala The Truffle Hunters, visit devourfest.com.
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