Filmmaker Spotlight: Meet Daniel & Mirra of The Perennial Plate
Meet Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine, the filmmakers behind The Perennial Plate and creators of ‘Homeward,’ Grand Prize winner of the 2014 Real Food Media Contest.
When did you first start making films? What is it about film that drew you?
Daniel: I made my first film in 2005-6 with my brothers and cousin – we traveled from Cairo to Cape Town, filming stories about the impact (positive and negative) of foreign aid in Africa. I knew very little about film going into the experience and “learned on the job” – then it was a matter of editing down 300 hours of footage into 80 minutes. It was an extremely challenging (and rewarding) process. It wasn’t until a few years later when I was tired of cooking professionally that I decided to take up film again. I wanted a way to combine my passion for food, activism and film together into one project. The Perennial Plate – our weekly documentary series was born from that mashup. Mirra, who had never picked up a camera before, was dragged into the mix back in 2009 by chance, and ended up being a natural.
Mirra: The camera allows you to meet people and find yourselves in situations you would have never dreamed of. It gives us a chance to see a day in a person’s life that is different than our own, and really hear their story… which is something I really enjoy and feel grateful to be doing.
The key to our job is finding a way to make our subjects feel comfortable enough to truly open up. And I think that’s what draws me to documentary filmmaking most of all.
How did you learn about CAXTLE oregano cooperative and the people in your film?
We have the amazing pleasure of traveling the world looking for stories about what we (and you) like to call “Real Food”. When we knew we were going to Mexico, we reached out to Steve Sando who runs an incredible bean company, Rancho Gordo, out of California, but also has a lot of great connections in Mexico. He immediately thought of this Oregano collective. The collective was a bit nervous about coming on our own, so Steve actually flew down and made the trip with us. We rented a truck and drove way up into the mountains. Once we were there, we fell in love with Isaies – we knew he had a beautiful story to tell, it was just a matter of getting him on his own to share his experience.
What do you hope people walk away from ‘Homeward’ thinking about?
All of our films share the theme of “food”, but when it really comes down to it, the films are about people. And so we want viewers to walk away with a personal connection to the people in the film. Maybe it will make them think differently about farm workers, about cooperatives, about Mexico — maybe it will make them wonder who it is that grows the oregano at their local grocery store.
What are the main themes you’re trying to bring to life in ‘Homeward’?
There were a couple themes in this story which we thought were important. The first, of course, is shifting U.S. perspectives on Mexico. Mexicans generally don’t want to leave their country, it is economic pressure that necessitates the move. Another theme is the impact of community/cooperation along with leadership — and how it can provide an amazing avenue for change.
During filming — when we first arrived at the cooperative in Hildago, we were welcomed with the sights of the farmers building the barbacoa. We saw that meal as a good jumping off point for a film about the power of community. It was just wonderful to see this community of farmers coming together to make this incredible meal and to have this united excitement over an organic crop that was actually giving them a strong livelihood.
So much news about Mexico is bad news, so to share the proud story of someone who doesn’t want to make the dangerous trip to the US, but would rather build up his own community was especially inspiring. I think that is what most people want — it’s just not always an option. So it’s amazing to see these folks in the mountains of Mexico doing just that.
If you had more time, what other issues would you have expanded on?
We talked to a lot of the other oregano farmers, almost all of whom had traveled to the US and come back after years of working in various jobs. They were excited about this opportunity to be home and their stories would have helped show what a difference this collective was making. Also, Isaies was very much inspired by his brother who recently passed away. Together, they had been working on this mission. Including that story would have added a further personal element.
Who inspires you?
We get inspiration from a lot of different places as our work covers several areas: food, activism, travel and film. We are constantly inspired (and blown away) by the quality of other’s work. Watching films, talking to farmers, visiting other parts of the world and being reminded of the inequality and injustice that continues to thrive all around us. Because of our work we get to meet so many inspiring people. We were very impacted by our trip to Mexico — beyond the story you see here, we also filmed stories on corn and chocolate and we found individuals with deep rooted commitment to food transformation. Amado Ramirez Leyva from Itanoni Restaurant in Oaxaca for example.
What’s next for you – do you have another project in the works?
We have spent the last 14 months traveling around the world documenting stories of the people who produce their own food in a sustainable way. Homeward was one of those stories. We are very lucky to have an amazing sponsor, Intrepid Travel, who funds our project but gives us complete creative control. I don’t know how we got so lucky. We put out short (4-6 minute) videos every other week on our website: theperennialplate.com. These videos will be coming out until late summer. After that, we are in the works of a larger project that hopes to involve other creators.
Daniel and Mirra are based in Minneapolis, MN. Stay connected and follow their work at www.theperennialplate.com