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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

Breaking Bread

by writer/producer/director Beth Elise Hawk

I have always been a huge fan of food films and television shows—from the ceremony of constructing the timpano in Big Night, to Anton Ego’s whisk-to-childhood when he savors the ratatouille, to the billowy smoke wafting from a chilly outdoor Patagonian mixed grill in "Chef’s Table," and the like. Each cinematic dish has a smell, a texture, a story. We relate to it. We assign our own individual taste to it through the screen. We are transported.

So when I learned about Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel—the first Palestinian Muslim Arab to win Israel’s "MasterChef" competition—and her A-Sham Arabic Food Festival, I was hooked. The festival paired Jewish chefs, on the one hand, with Christian or Muslim Arab chefs, on the other, to collaborate on exotic dishes. The concept that “hummus has no borders” drew me in. It was a positive story. And amidst our daily bombardment of gloomy news coverage, it’s a rarity to hear any positive story, let alone one emanating from the Middle East. If there was an authentic story to be told, and it involved food, I wanted to tell it.

What unfolded from there was unexpected and inspirational. Charismatic chefs, as entertaining as Hollywood’s leading men; the discovery of the magical city of Haifa with its multiple religions living in harmony on display; sumptuous, uncharted dishes that pique the interest of even the most sophisticated foodies. But, most importantly, was the lesson in humanity. When the chefs cook together, labels disappear. There is no religion. There are no politics. It’s just two human beings in the kitchen, connecting through ingredients, flavors, and grandmothers’ recipes.

I was lucky to work with one of Israel’s leading food cinematographers, Ofer Ben Yehuda, who provides exquisite, mouthwatering photography. And I am grateful for the incredibly talented Egyptian composer Omar El Deeb’s upbeat score that blends Arabic and Jewish elements to echo the themes of the film. I thank Landmark Theaters for featuring Breaking Bread, because a live, communal audience enhances an uplifting experience.

I’m interested in finding our commonality rather than focusing on the divide. Food facilitates connection. I hope you will enjoy the story of Breaking Bread as I have enjoyed making the film. I encourage you to cap it off with a great Middle Eastern meal, perhaps with people who do not share the same cultural, religious or political beliefs. Spark conversation, break bread and learn about one another. Food is the great equalizer. And though it would be naïve to think that food can solve world peace, the film demonstrates that it’s not a bad place to start.

Posted January 3, 2022

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