Review: Mouthwatering Food and Inspiring Politics Anchor an Educational, Entertaining Breaking Bread

There have been a lot of documentaries in recent years about noted chefs, restaurants and food trends, but I haven’t seen one quite like Breaking Bread, from director Beth Elise Hawk. On the surface, the documentary covers the history of Israel’s A-Sham Food Festival, founded by Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, the first Israeli-Arab to win Israel’s version of “MasterChef.” Leading up to the festival, the doctor and chef pairs noted chefs/restaurant owners—one Jewish, one Arab—to work together to create (or re-create) dishes, often ones that have been lost to time and must be rediscovered through old family recipes with new twists. The mutual admiration these chefs have for each others’ work is immediately apparent and inspirational, and while no one makes the claim that food ought to be the centerpiece of any peace negotiations in the world, the film makes a strong argument that it ought to be considered.

Watching these unique and savory dishes be prepared and consumed made me long for the missing components of Breaking Bread—I desperate wanted to, at the very least, smell what I was laying eyes upon. We’re also introduced to the city of Haifa, where a great deal of the festival takes place and where multiculturalism seems to thrive in ways that allow for the celebration and appreciation of all religions (a town center with decorations for Christmas, Ramadan and Hanukkah seems almost too good to be true), and now I have a new travel destination on my bucket list.

While director Hawk seems a bit too much in love with the slow-motion button on her editing machine and perhaps glorifies the “tough guy/rock star” images of some of these chefs, the journey she takes us on through food heritage as well as the history of the region—and how cuisine has blended to the point where it’s not always possible to assign a nationality to different dishes—is remarkable. As much an education as it is food porn of the highest order, Breaking Bread doesn’t ignore the political situation of the region, but these chefs have chosen to simply work through them, and in their own small ways perhaps bridge gaps in ways politicians have failed to for decades. The stories told here are so inspiring that I want to see where these chefs are in 5 or 10 years, if only to see if they remained friends or perhaps even continued collaborating after the festival. Like many of the dishes on display, the film has many layers, flavors, and varieties (the discussion of hummus alone is enough to make your head spin with possibilities).

The film is now playing locally at the Landmark Renaissance in Highland Park.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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