Top Food Films at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival

By Zagat Staff  |  April 16, 2014

The 13th Tribeca Film Festival kicks off Wednesday night, and features plenty of big name screenings - including a quartet of intriguing food-related films. Read on for a preview of TIFF's culinary-themed screenings - for times and tickets head here

  • Chef

    Known for big-budget blockbusters Iron Man and Cowboys & Aliens, Jon Favreau returns to his indie roots as writer, director, and star of the dramedy Chef. The culinary feature tells the story of well-known Los Angeles chef Carl Casper (Favreau) who, after sending a career-ending tweet to a nemesis restaurant critic, drives across the country to launch a food truck business with his 10-year old son (Emjay Anthony) and his sous chef (John Leguizamo). The cast counts both indie regulars and familiar Hollywood faces, including Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Sofia Vergara, Oliver Platt, and Bobby Cannavale.

    Behind the Scenes: Oliver Platt plays the restaurant critic responsible for provoking Chef Casper’s social media meltdown. Platt’s real life brother is Adam Platt, the restaurant critic for New York magazine , a coincidence of which Favreau wasn’t aware when casting the film.

    The Early Word: The film opened at South by Southwest in March where critics all agreed on one thing: a little slow plotwise, but foodies will love it. Says Joe Leydon in Variety: “A lightweight but high-calorie confection in which the actors often run the risk of being upstaged by all manner of scrumptious-looking cuisine.” - Elaheh Nozari

  • Famous Nathan

    In his first feature documentary, Lloyd Handwerker, grandson of “Famous” Nathan of the Coney Island hot dog institution, captures his family’s personal story and intertwines it with the  dramatic evolution of New York City.  Spanning over two centuries, the film looks at the Handwerker ancestry: how a Polish immigrant arrives to Ellis Island in 1912, and was able to capture the elusive American dream.  The documentary incorporates home videos, family commentary, and even has rare interviews with “famous” Nathan himself.

    Behind the Scenes: In an NYT interview in 2010, Handwerker said, “At some point you want to pursue the past.  You want answers, you want facts. You want it all.”  His project has been slowly been taking form for the past thirty years, he even filmed some scenes for the documentary over twenty years ago.

    The Early Word: No reviews yet; the world premiere is Thursday, April, 17th. -Caley Goldblatt

  • Food Chains

    Directed by Sanjay Rawal, executive produced by Eva Longoria, and narrated by Forrest Whitaker, this activist documentary explores the human rights abuses that farm workers in the United States suffer to pick the food we buy in our grocery stores. Filmed in Southern Florida, the doc focuses on the struggle of a small group of farm workers and includes interviews with Longoria, co-founder of United Farm Workers Dolores Huerta, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr, and Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser.

    Behind the Scenes: Rawal got the idea to make the film when he found himself lost on a scenic route from Naples to Orlando, Florida. Struck by the segregation between farmers and farmworkers, he raised funds through Kickstarter to start his project.

    The Early Word: The film debuted to a sold out screening at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year, where Screen Media picked it up for international sales and plans to qualify it for the 2014 Academy Awards. -EN

  • The Search for General Tso

    This feature-length documentary explores the origins of Chinese food in America by asking the question we all want to know when we look at our takeout menus: who was General Tso, and why does every Chinese restaurant in the country serve a deep-fried chicken that bears his name? The story is told through interviews with Chinese restaurant owners, chefs, scholars, and customers across America.

    Behind the Scenes: Director Ian Cheney traveled across America and to China to uncover the origins of the General Tso’s Chicken. A hint to his findings? When presented with a picture of the dish, most people in China didn’t recognize it.

    The Early Word: The film is making its world premiere at Tribeca and has yet to receive reviews, but Cheney is an Emmy-nominated and Peabody-award winning documentary filmmaker  (King Corn, Truck Farm). -EN

  • Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon

    Making his directing debut, Mike Myers captures the life of friend Shep Gordon, one of Hollywood’s most influential music managers. Moving to Los Angeles in his early twenties, Shep Gordon started his management career in the  70’s, as he helped shape the careers of acts like Alice Cooper and Blondie. Gordon is also credited with creating the concept of a celebrity chef, as he guided Emeril Lagasse to superstardom.

    Behind the Scenes: At a Toronto Film Festival Screening Myers disclosed that  had been trying to convince Gordon to let him make the film for twenty years.  He says, ”I was just trying to think of the people in my life who I love. And I said: Shep, you have to let me make a film."  The documentary is chalked full of celebrity cameos;  Alice Cooper, Anne Murray, Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, Tom Arnold, Willie Nelson, Steven Tyler, and Emeril Lagasse all appear in the documentary. 

    The Early Word:  Early reviews are good, noting Gordon's extreme candor. David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter says, “Supermensch is very much a celebration...Gordon comes across as a refreshingly candid man who feels no compulsion to varnish the truth.” -CG