Filmmaker Daniel Klein's excellent, James Beard award-winning web series The Perennial Plate has taken him and his filming partner and wife Mirra Fine around Minnesota, around the country, and then around the world.
It all started with a realization: He was a white male with a free ride to college and this privilege obligated him to follow his dreams and to do something substantial in the world.
Now, together with Edibles Magazine, they've revived the the 14-years defunct PBS series The Victory Garden (Now The Victory Garden's Edible Feast).
See also: Perennial Plate to launch world tour
Cue up an old episode of that program and here's what you get: classical music and white folk digging around in the dirt. The show was inspired by the actual Victory Garden push during the war, and the show had a 35-year run run before going off the air in 2001.
Klein and Fine were tasked with documenting cooking and gardening, but they knew that they wanted to explore outside the traditional storytelling boundaries of those endeavors.
In New York City, a female salt farmer and an Asian and urban forager; in Mississippi, a fourth-generation African American farmer; and in New Orleans a white farmer couple with 10 mostly non-white adopted children. Most of the chefs featured in the program are women, because, they say, it's too easy to show what white males are doing in the food world.
Their filmmaking style is to allow the subjects to speak for themselves, so another of their guidelines was to do the show without a host this time around, breaking the traditional format.
"We want to give the audience the benefit of the doubt that they can follow a story and to make them feel as though they're being guided on a journey."
That style can have its pitfalls -- if a subject isn't particularly articulate about what they do, or necessarily excited about it, it shows. But then, those moments can have their silver linings. In Sri Lanka they were filming a couple of married tea farmers. It was only a job to them and as it turned out, they didn't have much to say about it. But what they did seem to enjoy discussing was their arranged marriage -- and their enduring love.
The end result is "Tea for Two," a beautiful portrait of a loving couple of 34 years who survive against all odds and declare on camera their undying love for one another. And it's one of Klein's and Fine's favorites.
They finished (with the help of other filmmakers due to the time constraints) 13 23-minute episodes of The Victory Garden in just a couple of months, which Klein says was a real challenge, as it's a departure from their internet films where there are no rules or time restrictions.
But the restrictions they do try to adhere to as filmmakers are to not try to "crack" the internet, but instead to be bound to only one goal: "Being open to the best story a person has to tell. There has to be a willingness to let people be."
As an interview, Klein himself is strikingly modest and almost halting. His answers are remarkably simple, matter-of-fact, and humble. I deduce that there is something in his nature that gets out of the way, allowing others to have the spotlight. To just be.
But the proof is in their pudding: Accolades come not just from the James Beard Foundation, but big-deal sustainable food dude Michael Pollan, Food & Wine Magazine, world famous chef Thomas Keller, and on and on.
Asked what he has to thank for all the successes he answers: "It's less me than the subject."
"Food is just a lens to tell the human story. We all have to eat and it transcends political boundaries, or all differences. People gather over something they want. Something they need."
Victory Garden Edible Feast began January 4 on channel TPT2.
They air on Sundays at 6:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 8 a.m.
The debut episode takes place in Minnesota and features Hmong organic farmers, Living the Dream Farm, and chef Jamie Malone.
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