Local Food Film Festival, 2011


This article first appeared in the Coffs Coast Advocate, 29.10.11.

Last Sunday the Coffs Coast Local Food Film Festival was launched at Bellingen’s Memorial Hall. In previous years the Festival has featured documentaries and short films from overseas, covering topics such as the collapse of global fisheries due to over-fishing, the inequities of the global coffee trade, the multi-functionality and vibrancy of community gardens, and the fundamental role that healthy soil plays in human well-being.

We continue that tradition this year, with two excellent feature documentaries. The first, Vanishing of the Bees, tells the story of the not-so-mysterious reasons for the collapse in bee populations worldwide, and the dangers this poses for food production. The second, The Economics of Happiness, argues that humanity must urgently find ways to transition away from the narrow focus on economic growth, and towards economic systems that place human and environmental well-being at their centre.

A big change this year is that, having successfully run the first-ever local food film competition, we are able to present some excellent short films made by residents of the Coffs Coast, telling local stories about the challenges and joys around growing, preparing and eating food. Entries came from Nambucca, Sawtell, Coffs Harbour and Bellingen.

The winning entry – The Bushman of Tamban – tells the story of Damien Mibornborngnamabarra Calhoun, as he provides the audience with a tour of his property outside of Eungai Creek, showing the abundance of tasty and healthy bush tucker that is seemingly everywhere he turns. Damien laments the widespread loss of knowledge about these sources of food, especially amongst indigenous people, who as a result suffer disproportionately high rates of diseases linked to poor diets.

Sharing this knowledge is very important, both to pass on this culture and keep it alive, and for food security. As Damien says, nearly all of us take our food for granted, but what will we do if the systems and shops that we have come to depend on so heavily should break down, for any reason?

Damien, and the winning film maker, Fil Baker, were at the Festival’s launch on Sunday; and Fil was happy to receive his winner’s cheque of $1000. Another surprise guest at the Festival was ‘the grandfather of Australian cuisine’, celebrity chef and owner of the newly re-launched Number One Wine Bar and Bistro at Circular Quay, Tony Bilson.

Chef Tony Bilson
Chef Tony Bilson

Tony and his wife Amanda, who were holidaying with a friend in the Bellingen area, prepared a special local snack for film goers: steamed garlic flowers with a rich avocado mayonnaise. If you can find these flowers (try the Coffs Growers Market) I thoroughly recommend this way of preparing them: it was absolutely delicious.

Tony was also there to tell the 70-strong audience about the publication of his new book, Insatiable, an ‘autobiographical review of contemporary Australian cuisine’.  Tony says that ‘a lot of people don’t understand contemporary Australian food, so what I’ve done is give it a context and a narrative’. ‘The biggest change’, he says, is that now ‘food doesn’t need geographical references, such as beef bourguignon, or chicken provençal. Now food is much more individual, and people are much more interested in texture.’

In partnership with the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land, the Northern Territory Education Department and the Federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Tony recently launched a 10-year horticulture, healthy eating and educational project. By creating communal and market gardens, and combining this with cooking and nutrition classes, the project aims to address health inequalities, improve community self-reliance and create jobs.

Local food, says Tony, is ‘one of the things that give food its true character’; and in his view, the movement for local food is ‘very significant’.