Mushrooms, for many, are a difficult food to swallow. They are neither vegetable nor animal, and while there is something "magical" about them, they grow in the wild, and as children we were warned not to eat them lest they kill us. To those of us who enjoy mushrooms, their connotation is one of intrigue and beauty. The variety is outstanding, each tasting distinct. To a chef, the mushroom has a completely different meaning. Mushrooms find themselves at all levels of the high/low culture skyscraper and their costs follow suit.
Understanding the difficulties that go into foraging the fungi and then the skill that comes with creating an edible masterpiece are two of the main concerns of the independent film Now, Forager, which plays Tuesday, March 12, at Sundance. The other is that of love.
When Jason Cortlund and Julia Halperin set out on their recent venture, which they describe as "a film about love and fungi," they wanted to make a different type of food film. Both filmmakers have a background in cooking as well as a passion for mushrooms (they are both members of the New York Mycological Society, and if you didn't know that existed, don't feel bad).
"We wanted to do a movie about cooking," says Cortlund, "rather than consumption."
The directors explain that understanding the process of cooking has affected this film considerably. There's no "voila, the food is done now" moment. The film takes the time to show all the preparation in a meal each step of the way.
Cortlund also references the recent surge in the Slow Food movement, which aims to encourage people to continue traditional methods of consumption, from planting seeds to farming to bringing those foods to table. It plays in nicely with the other recent trend of farm-to-table cooking that many Houston restaurants have made the move to. Now, Forager has been deemed by many the first fictional slow food film.
"The reaction from the food community has been very positive," says Halperin. However, even if you're not a foodie, you can walk out of the movie gaining a new appreciation for the process.
But this is not just a movie about food and fungi; it's a love story. The film follows a couple who have strife in their relationship over which direction they should take their lives, and the manner in which they forage and prepare food is intertwined with the drama.
"There's much more to this film than food," remarks Cortlund. "It is a complex movie about a relationship."
In addition to the characters' complexities, the making of the film was also no simple endeavor. Given the small budget, Cortlund and Halperin had to get creative with the shooting. Most of the film was shot just outside of New York City, with some locations in the city itself. Getting just the right exteriors and finding the mushrooms in specific periods of their growth was important. The directors took their time in obtaining footage, and the film took about 18 months to shoot. At times Cortlund would just grab his camera and take video on his own; he became something of a forager himself.
The reactions thus far have been tremendous. For a small movie with no name actors, Now, Forager has gotten a slew of press and made it onto several "best of" lists for 2012. The film opened in the United States at the IFC Center in New York City and has taken off since, selling out shows across the country.
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Currently, the film and its directors are on a Texas city tour -- the directors live in Austin -- with screenings and talk-backs in every major city in the state. They stop in Houston on Tuesday, March 12, at the Sundance theater.
"We are excited to be taking the movie to Houston," says Halperin, "because of the amazing food scene there."
Now, Forager screens on Tuesday, March 12, at Sundance. 7:15 p.m. Screening on tour with the Texas Independent Film Network, it is sponsored by SWAMP and Houston Cinema Arts Society. Director(s). For more information, visit sundancecinemas.com/houston