Bottling memories of grandma’s food

Grandmas Project is an ambitious web series that that calls grandchildren worldwide to share their grandmothers’ recipe on film or on photos and thereby preserve stories of family heritage.

Updated - October 18, 2016 12:38 pm IST

Published - July 26, 2016 06:50 pm IST - Bengaluru

So much more than just recipes

So much more than just recipes

It’s such a natural act…to stand by and watch your grandma cook, and listen to her talk, about the food she’s making, memories of the recipe, memories of her childhood or perhaps, her roots. It was during one such moment that filmmaker Jonas Pariente realised that food was a great entry point to other stories.

He had started filming his two grandmothers – Meme and Nano -- when he was 23. “I filmed them in their kitchens as they cooked, asking them about their childhoods, their immigration to France (one grandma was from Poland and the other from Egypt). When you ask your grandmother for a recipe, it’s a great point to start off on a conversation on so many things,” observes the filmmaker in a telephonic interview from Paris. But then Jonas went away to film school in New York, and these films didn’t really take shape, till finally, he figured that this was something he wanted to share with the world. Unfortunately, his Polish grandma died while he was still in New York, and the urgency of the project became greater.

Jonas figured that he could ask other filmmakers to share their stories too, of their roots and identity – those who staunchly believed that their grandmas’ recipes and stories are world heritage that need to be collected, celebrated and shared. It’s turning out to be a celebration of one of the most ancestral and universal acts of transmission -- the teaching of family recipes from one generation to another. His intention, he says, “is to make people realise that at some point their grandma is not going to be there, and highlight how important it is to spend time with them and how important it is to record what they say”.

It was in May 2015 that Grandmas Project completed a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising $ 21,250 from 274 backers living in more than 15 different countries. In January 2016 Grandmas Project received UNESCO’s patronage for its work “raising awareness among the general public to the intangible cultural heritage through digital means”. There’s been no looking back since. As of now four films – from France, Croatia, Egypt, and Brazil have been completed. Soon, 25 more projects will be selected.

“We’ve had so many people wanting to share. So I had to experiment with two layers of contribution – so we started asking people who can’t make films to send photos and a short text that we will put online on our website, which will eventually, hopefully take the form of a book. The basic idea is to share,” he stresses. Each of these people, in turn, will share on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, so everyone the world over can read them. “My grandma and me discussed my identity, as a migrant child, and how our food embodies that. Another French filmmaker made a lovely film about the urban-rural divide and urbanisation when he spoke to his grandmother who lived in the countryside. A Brazilian filmmaker suddenly found his grandma, while cooking a recipe, speak about how they prefer to have boys rather than girls…”

There have been three Indian filmmakers who have sent in proposals for films and one Indian non-film entry till date, he admits. “I have spent time in several states in India and I know I can do one such project entirely in India – there are so many cuisines and cultures,” he agrees. Jonas first travelled in India with a friend when he was studying filmmaking in New York, when he discovered the Jewish community in Mumbai. So for his course, he decided to make a film Next Year in Bombay. He spent more than six months filming in India between 2008 and 2010 (his company is called Chai Chai Films!).

While the deadline for filmmakers to send in proposals for the eight-minute film is July 27 for this season, Jonas admits, they will continue to receive entries. “We don’t want to say no, we don’t want to refrain people.” The jury is composed of people like Charlie Phillips (head of documentaries, The Guardian), and Anu Rangachar (head of the international program, Mumbai Film Festival), Jordan McGarry (director of curation, Vimeo) among five others.

(You can find details on the project at )

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