Five days. Ninety-nine events. Seventy-two films. Three celebrity chef dinners.
For fans of food and film, Wolfville will be the place to be Oct. 25-29 for the fifth edition of Devour! The Food Film Fest.
When he originated what was then called the Slow Motion Food and Film Fest in 2009, chef Michael Howell envisioned a festival of food, drink and film that would be “the biggest of its kind in the world.”
Now, in year five of the current Devour! format, that's still the goal, he says.
Compared to the full five-day event of today, the first Slow Motion Food and Film Fest wasn’t large. But, Howell said, “after the first edition, we knew we were onto something big.”
He reached out to Lia Rinaldo to handle the film component.
Today, Howell is executive director and Rinaldo managing director of what has become a not-for-profit Nova Scotia company.
Devour! features “food at every touch point,” although its primary mandate is film focused on food, Rinaldo said.
Howell, the former owner and chef of the Tempest restaurant in Wolfville, points out, “the culinary world is very attractive to people.” Moreover, Devour! is intended as a vehicle to promote local tourism, cuisine and all Nova Scotia has to offer.
“No one else is doing this,” says Howell.
Other places – Berlin and New York, to name two – host film festivals that feature food, he says, but none are as small, or as unique, as Wolfville.
“We're trying to take ownership of our own space and be unique in our niche.”
Spreading the word
Devour! will hold nine satellite events over the next year, in locations as diverse as Fogo Island, Newfoundland; Berlin; the White Point Lodge and Fox Harb'r resorts and Osoyoos, B.C.
“All the places we're going have invited us to come. Finding niche audiences is what will allow Devour! to continue to exist and hopefully continue to grow,” Rinaldo said.
And many of those spots are repeat events; this will be year three for both Fox Harb'r and B.C.
“One of the things I'm excited about is that we've invited the chefs from these other venues to come here, and some of them are coming,” added Howell.
The other venues are trying to upgrade their culinary aspects, he explained, and recognize that the exposure they get at Devour! will help make that happen.
Canadian Cinema and Cuisine
This year's festival theme is A Celebration of Canadian Cinema and Cuisine.
The Oct. 25-29 event is centered in Wolfville, other than the tasting events, which are held throughout the county.
The Al Whittle Theatre is the base theatre, along with a number of other venues in and around Wolfville. For the first time this year, some events will be held at the Wolfville and Lightfoot winery.
The Whittle will screen more than 70 food and wine films from all over the world, including China, Serbia and all over North America, Rinaldo said, adding that a director will be coming in from Brazil to attend.
In terms of signature events, Howell points to the opening gala reception Oct. 25 at Acadia's Fountain Common, presented by Taste of Nova Scotia. Twelve of Nova Scotia's finest chefs will come together for a sensory exploration of Nova Scotia cuisine.
Special guest curator for the opening gala is Canadian film icon Gordon Pinsent, who will be accompanied by his actress daughter Leah. Gordon Pinsent has personally chosen The Hundred-Foot Journey, directed by Lasse Hallstrom, to screen at the opening.
The Canadian premiere of a film called Jacques Pepin: The Art of Craft will be held Oct. 26. Pepin, one of the most famous of French chefs who now lives in Connecticut, will be in attendance.
That same evening, as part of the Scotland vs. New Scotland Celebrity Chef Dinner, three well-known chefs from Scotland, along with three Nova Scotia chefs, will interpret the dishes of Jacques Pepin.
Also on Thursday, from 4-8 p.m., the Devour! Street Food Party will take place on Front Street. A free event aimed at Acadia students, Howell and Rinaldo describe it as “a fun food event that's inexpensive,” and which a year ago, attracted some 3,000 people to downtown Wolfville.
On Oct. 27, the annual Chowder Smack-Down will be held 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Wolfville Lions Club. Ten competing chefs will vie for the title of Devour! Chowder Champion. Now in its fifth year, this is “a really popular event that always sells out,” Howell said.
Also on Friday, there will be a large cocktail reception under the tent at Wolfville and Lightfoot Winery.
Transportation from Wolfville to the winery will be available. In fact, there will be transportation available throughout the festival, including a daily shuttle from Halifax to Wolfville.
According to Howell, there is a big educational component to Devour!, with representation from culinary schools from across Canada, including the Nova Scotia Community College, part of “a robust student program sponsored by Scotiabank.”
There is also a competition, open to Nova Scotia students, to create a short film on food literacy. The winning film will be screened on opening night, and on CBC television, the festival's media sponsor.
“We really want the film community to see us as a film festival,” RInaldo said. “We have a very active film community here in Nova Scotia, but we aren't necessarily seen as a film festival yet.”
There will be several short films “you won't see anywhere else,” she says, as well as a few Canadian and world film premieres. The Saturday gala will feature the world premiere of a Canadian film called Grand Cru (a burgundy wine).
Other film premieres will include 24 Snow, “an amazing film from Siberia,” she said, and an Australian film called Barbecue.
According to Howell, some of the biggest benefits from Devour! are economic. He and Rinaldo anticipated around 12,000 people will attend the festival.
“They come, they spend, they invest in the local area. For the week, we're the biggest employer of chefs in the province,” he said.
He added that the biggest impediment to further growth of the event is the lack of a major hotel/convention centre in the area.
“The lack of named accommodation is really the only limiting factor right now. We need the extra accommodation space to allow us to continue to grow.”
Go online: For a full schedule of Devour! events, pick up an event program, available at various locations in Wolfville, or visit the event website at https://devourfest.com.