Sunday, September 23, 2012

Urbanworld FF: Soul Food Junkies

The Urbanworld Film Festival is a showcase for filmmakers and actors of color, presented at the AMC 34th Street in New York City. For more information on the festival and to see the full 2012 schedule of films, visit the website. 

We never called my mother's cooking "soul food" when growing up. It was just what we ate, though perhaps our menu wasn't quite the same as in other black families. We had the fried chicken, we had the collard greens, we had the corn bread, but we had other kinds of food too. For instance, I remember some Sundays when my father would simply buy a pizza pie from our favorite pizza joint on Junction Boulevard, along with a dozen Dunkin Donuts, but that was an occasional treat. Both my parents grew up in the south, so I have no doubt that they were familiar with the phrase, but while we did eat together (though not all the time, I admit), we didn't necessarily need dinner or any particular meal to get together and talk. That was just us, though.


Director Byron Hurt (taken at the
'Middle of Nowhere' screening)
Many black families have grown up with soul food dinners as a cultural heritage, and the documentary Soul Food Junkies examines this relationship, particularly in light of how recent years have shown traditional soul food to be not all that healthy. This film attracted a large and boisterous crowd at Urbanworld, and it was clear that this was a subject close to many people's hearts. Director Byron Hurt weaves a general examination of black communities and their long relationship with soul food with the story of his own father, who ate pork sausages and candied yams and hamhocks all his life and saw no reason to change, not even when his own health was at risk. Seeing his father die from pancreatic cancer made Hurt think his diet was to blame, and making this film was his way of searching for answers.

Hurt goes all over not just the American south, but across the country, talking to all kinds of people, black and white, who love soul food, and asking why. In interviews with health experts and other scholars, he traces the roots of the cuisine back to the slavery era, and shows how cooking soul food grew to become a point of pride in many black communities, eventually spreading out towards the rest of the country as well. In the after-show Q-and-A, Hurt made the point of how throughout it all, he wanted to maintain respect for the people who make and eat soul food, without judgment. It's full of laughter and poignancy, and the story of Hurt's father makes it all the more intriguing to watch.

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Previously:
Being Mary Jane
Dar He: The Lynching of Emmett Till
Won't Back Down

Related:
Soul Food

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