By C.J. Hirschfield
(Updated December 2, 2022)
Author Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher was smart enough to realize early on that using just her initials when writing in an era of accepted female domesticity would grant her greater opportunity to publish passionately about gastronomy—and life. Her first book of essays was released in 1937, followed by over 30 other books, and hundreds of published articles and essays, until her death in 1992. Her “The Art of Eating” has been in continuous publication for nearly 70 years.
Director Gregory Bezat has taken full advantage of all of the tools in the documentarian’s toolbox: historical footage and photos, fresh interviews with charismatic experts in the field, crisp graphics, pitch-perfect voice-over acting, and music that complements beautifully. Add to that sumptuous close-ups of food being harvested from organic gardens, chefs cooking and people enjoying it — you have a cornucopia of delights.
Those familiar with the native Californian’s midcentury work would never pigeon-hole her as a food writer. As celebrated chef Jacques Pepin says in the film, “She was a great writer—period.” And as she herself has written, “There is communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk. And that is my answer when people ask me ‘why do you write about hunger and not wars or love?’” Her keen observations of life, and the daily wonders it presents, challenge us to slow down and appreciate its sounds, scents and textures.
The film features many culinary rock stars, including Alice Waters, Ruth Reichl, Tanya Holland, Katina and Kyle Connaughton, Dominica Rice-Cisneros, Gayle Pirie and John Clark. More intimate insights are shared by Fisher’s daughter Kennedy Golden and personal assistant Marsha Moran. And writer and Fisher’s longtime friend Anne Lamott offers particularly passionate and poignant observations about the author’s character and craft.
We learn much about Fisher’s life: how important her extended time in France was to her on both personal and professional levels, her many years as a single mother, the fact that she was a contracted writer at Paramount Studios, that she purposely kept herself an untrained cook, that she played a key role in the establishment of the Napa wine-growing region.
Fisher wrote about the joys of fresh, local foods consumed with friends over conversation and wine in an era when America was focused on food that was fast, cheap and easy.
Fisher’s legacy is perfectly summed up by Anne Lamott: “Are you even here for your precious life? An if so, what are we going to have for lunch?”
The filmmakers are working on their 2023 release plans to include more festivals, theatrical, Special Event screenings, an international release, and eventually various home platforms.
You have two very different ways to see it if you live in Northern California.
On Thursday, December 8 it will show at 5pm at the Cameo Theatre in St. Helena, where M.F.K. Fisher lived for many years. Following the film Fisher’s youngest daughter and overseer of her literary trust, Kennedy Friede Golden, will be in conversation with restaurateur Cindy Pawlcyn
(Mustards). Info and advance tickets (recommended).
On Sunday, December 11 there will be a screening and Harvest Dinner inspired by Fisher’s essays at Little Saint in Healdsburg.
Info and tickets here. There are only be 40 places available. After the film, director Gregory Bezat, Chef Kyle Connaughton ad myself will talk about Fisher and the movie. Little Saint was recently named one of the Best 50 Restaurants in the U.S. by the New York Times.
Official Film Website with a trailer and more info. Also subscribe for updates.
Follow the film on Facebook.
Visit Fisher’s ” Last House” in Glen Ellen. The Audubon Canyon Ranch, a Northern California conservation organization are stewards of M.F.K. Fisher’s “Last House” in the Sonoma Valley. They host the M.F.K. Fisher Writing Contest for authors of all ages and experience. The 2022 The grand prize essay, “Heartfelt,” was written by nine-year-old Boston resident Annika (Ani) Thakarar. Read about it.
The MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award is given each year by the James Beard Foundation.
Les Dames d’Escoffier offer their own M.F. K. Fisher Award for distinguished journalism.
Read the New York Times obituary.
C.J. Hirschfield retired after 17 years as Executive Director of Children’s Fairyland, where she was charged with the overall operation of the nation’s first storybook theme park. Prior to that, she served as an executive in the cable television industry where she produced two series, ran San Francisco’s public access channel and advocated on behalf of the industry. A former writer for Film Month, she also penned a weekly column for the Piedmont Post for 13 years and now writes features and reviews for EatDrinkFilms. C.J. holds a degree in Film and Broadcasting from Stanford University.
Hirschfield currently serves on the programming team for the Appreciating Diversity Film series showing free documentaries in Oakland and Piedmont, as well as on the advisory board of Youth Beat, a youth media training program that provides low-income Oakland students with the tools and opportunities they need to thrive in today’s workforce.
C.J. says, “A good documentary takes us places we never could never have imagined, and changes the way we see the world.”
(Full disclosure: The publisher/editor of EatDrinkFilms is a Producer of this movie.)