When you shop at a farmers’ market or eat at a restaurant that displays the food’s providence on the menu (and the ingredients are local and fresh), chances are the name Carlo Petrini doesn’t immediately spring to mind. But he is the man who is responsible for the rise in these things. Petrini is the founder of the Slow Food movement, they are a group of food enthusiasts who advocate good, clean, tasty and fair food products and are also the subject of the documentary, Slow Food Story.
The film is narrated by Petrini’s best friend, Azio Citi and is written and directed by mutual friend, Steffano Sardo (who also has family members involved in the movement). The film is an interesting one but it does at times suffer from hagiography, which is no doubt the result of the film’s participants being too close to the subject. At times the story is also a little muddled and lacks a clear arc, as lots of ideas are presented (often with few details provided) about the many topics associated with Petrini and Slow Food.
The film’s director has said that it was difficult to condense so many topics into such a short timeframe and that it is difficult to distinguish Slow Food from the life of Carlo Petrini. For this reason the film jumps between the two subjects and often focuses more on the visionary man than his creation. It begins with his childhood, living in the regional Italian town of Bra where a total of 27,000 people live. In his early days, Petrini was involved in left-wing politics and activism and he also staged various rallies and other events around food (he was also contributing articles to the La Stampa and La Republica newspapers at the time).
Petrini was also involved in launching the first-ever comprehensive book about the wines of Italy (this was launched in response to the methanol scandal in the eighties, which claimed several lives). In 2004 he also founded the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Northern Italy. But his biggest contribution to society would have to be his founding of the Slow Food concept.
This idea – which spawned a movement – was created in 1986 in response to the first McDonald’s restaurant opening in Italy. The golden arches were an eyesore amongst the historic, Roman buildings but what they represented was even worse. Petrini was upset that these homogenised fast foods were impersonal and industrialised and threatened local tavernas serving homemade recipes from local products, not to mention Italian tradition and heritage. Petrini is an ebullient, witty and charismatic character who is often seen in this film giving talks and interviews. By the end you are won over by his lovely personality and laughing at the story about his first meeting with Prince Charles.
Petrini is a larger-than-life character and this documentary fits his personality. It contains quirky animations and characters, as well as vintage footage (some of which doesn’t always fit- at one point there is a strange segue to show two Italian twins’ music). Ultimately, Slow Food Story is a feel-good documentary that is visceral, thought-provoking and colourful. But it would’ve helped if more meat had been added in places and fat cut away in others. In short it’s a good meal but it’s not always excellent.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Slow Food Story screens on 8 September 2014 as part of the Environmental Film Festival in Melbourne. For more information and tickets please visit: http://www.effm.org.au/slow-food-story/