Durham-based film company weaves stories through food
by Katie Reeder
At Vittles Films, it’s not just about the food. It’s about the stories behind the food.
“(Food) is a very universally understood thing and often helps people get over barriers that might otherwise keep them from listening to another person’s story,” D.L. Anderson, co-founder of Vittles, said.
In 2011, Anderson teamed up with Victoria Bouloubasis, a food writer he had previously worked with at Triangle-based newspaper Indy Week, where he was a photographer. Anderson said Bouloubasis wanted to get to know the people behind the food.
“I like learning about people and their stories, and food is a great connector,” Bouloubasis said. “You can learn a lot about somebody at their own table.”
And so Vittles, a Durham-based film company, was born with the idea of profiling individuals and exploring their stories through the lens of food, Anderson explained.
If you look up “vittles” in the dictionary, Anderson said, you will find the phrase “essential provision,” which refers to more than just food. It’s about wellness, social justice and having a place to have your story heard.
Storytelling through ‘that one character’
The films have looked at a variety of issues. From segregation in the 1960s, to immigration, to the challenges veterans face in returning and healing from war, Vittles has sought to tell the stories of real people and their journey in relation to food.
“The work that we do is taking in kind of complex, contemporary social issues and trying to simplify them through … that one character and also through food,” Anderson said. “Every creative process needs a corner to work out from, and you need some kind of boundaries, some kind of constraint.”
In their latest short film, “Un Buen Carnicero,” Anderson said he and his team wanted to explore the issue of what it means to be an immigrant in the United States in 2015.
The film profiled Tolo Martinez, an employee at Cliff’s Meat Market in Carrboro about his experiences with immigration and the complexities of a small town community.
Bouloubasis directed the film. She said the Southern Foodways Alliance originally approached them about doing a short film on Cliff’s Meat Market in early 2014, but that there was only a broad idea of what the film would be at the time.
She knew Martinez and his cousin, Juan Carlos Martinez, who also worked for the meat market, from being a customer there. Bouloubasis asked them what the story was behind Cliff’s, and they wanted to talk about the immigrant experience, Bouloubasis said.
Bouloubasis cited employer-employee dynamics in most cases that involve “othering,” but she said this was not the case with Tolo Martinez and owner, Cliff Collins.
“I knew there was more than that,” she said. “The film tries to celebrate every aspect of this reality that exists at Cliff’s through Cliff and Tolo.”
Tolo Martinez said he wanted to share his story, so people could hear what he thinks.
“Sometimes I feel free,” he said. “But sometimes I feel like when you got some bird in a cage, but there’s nothing you can do.”
He said he thinks the film will help raise awareness about the immigrant experience, and he has received positive feedback from people in the community.
“For me, I feel like people know me because I see people say, ‘Hey, I saw you in the video,’” he said.
The power of film
Prior to founding Vittles, Anderson worked as a photographer in the Triangle at Indy Week. He said he wanted to move into video work because it was becoming a more popular medium, though many newspaper personnel struggled to find a space for it online at the time.
“It was getting treated the same way as a story, like thrown on the site and quickly buried,” he said.
He said video often helps different people listen to and understand each other.
“If my aim is to help someone understand someone they’ve never met, someone that has a story, then hearing them speak, you know, seeing the way in which they look and move through the world, just communicates in a way that is perfect for that,” he said.
Anderson and Bouloubasis emphasized their desire for people to watch Vittles’ films in a communal setting so that they spark conversation and lead to action. To encourage this, Vittles often hosts events and fundraising dinners where people support a cause by attending a film screening with a meal.
“We want to connect with people who see the film and who are moved by the experience and want to do something,” he said.
“You make your films because you want to change the conversation. You want to change lives. You want to affect, you know, some action, some impact through your film.”
At the March 16 screening of “Un Buen Carnicero,” more than 60 people attended, and the event raised more than $1,000 for Kitchen Patrol, a weekly cooking class the Lantern hosts for local children.
Bouloubasis said she has had many conversations with different people after the screening of “Un Buen Carnicero.” Some of these conversations revolved around her decision to have subtitles throughout the film. When the people are speaking in English, there are Spanish subtitles. When they are speaking in Spanish, there are English subtitles.
“I almost want that sense of confusion to have people think of somebody who is here and doesn’t speak English, how they feel most of the time,” she said.
Overcoming differences, such as language barriers, is part of Vittles’ mission. They seek to cultivate community and understanding through food. It’s sustenance through storytelling.