“Let Them Eat Cake” is an unconventional documentary film that takes its audience on a journey through twelve countries, exploring the contrast between pastry making and consumption in various parts of the world. While in some parts of the world those who farm the ingredients for pastries can’t even afford them, in Paris, Tokyo and Los Angeles, lavish pastries adorn the shelves of pastry shops along the streets. Written and directed by award-winning director Alexis Krasilovsky, “Let Them Eat Cake” addresses the planetary emergency of too little food, while seducing the viewer with the lavish traditions and beauty of pastry and cake-making that call us back to the roots of our childhood (www.pastriology.com). Filmmaker Alexis Krasilovsky answered a few questions for us:
1. When did you make the film?
We started the film during the food crisis of 2008 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, when the price of the country’s basic staple, rice, was so inflated that even middle class people were having a hard time eating three meals a day, and the quality of the rice that the poor could afford was something that ordinarily would have been fed only to cattle. At the time, the US had just been overtaken by a cupcake craze. By the time we finished the film in June 2014, people had been re-thinking sugar and obesity. One in six people in the US were struggling with hunger. (feedingamerica.org.) , while 842 million people in the world didn’t have enough to eat. For each year of the film, over five million children under five died of poor nutrition. (www.worldhunger.org.).
2. How did you go about constructing the film?
Associatively, seeking balance between different continents and people of different backgrounds. It was like being a cook making a big soup: Are there enough carrots? Is there too much chicken? Can we taste the different flavors? What is the overall perfume of the soup? Similarly, was there a balance between the rich and the poor, between those who farm the ingredients for pastry, those who make the pastry, and those who eat – or are too poor to eat – pastry? Was there too much of the U.S. and not enough of Africa? Too much of France and not enough of India? In a global film, you want to be inclusive. But some countries, like China, proved to be too expensive to include in the film. We stopped at a dozen nations, knowing that at least we had represented five continents.
There was a total of 277 people helping from around the world on this production. The total number of interviewees and subjects was 50, 36 of whom also helped to make the film in other ways.
3. What are the ethics of directing a global film?
I try to think of myself as a global citizen, rather than as an auteur. The subjects of the film should come first. My individual experience is important, but only in the context of other individual experiences. I try not to dominate with my point of view; I try to listen from behind the camera to others’ perspectives. For example, Christopher Garumbullo, the son of Rogene Garambullo, a Jicarilla (pronounced “Yih-cah-RIYa”) Apache elder, Unit Directed our interviews shot in New Mexico. It would have been disrespectful for me to dictate exactly what to shoot. The very word “shooting” instead of “gathering” footage is something that I question.
I also try to put my own country and experiences into a broader context. I didn’t want a Joseph Conrad approach to Africa, like the BBC’s “The World’s Most Dangerous Place for Women,” in which the rapes of Congolese women are filtered through the perspective of a young London protagonist. Instead, my co-producer, Dr. Hamidou Soumah and I, hired a distinguished West African documentary filmmaker, Moussa Diakite, to film his own perspective of the cocoa plantations of his country, the Republic of Guinea. It’s important to avoid “yet another biased, pro-European framing of ‘Third World problems” (Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, Winter 2013 Issue No.57, Richa Kaul Pade, “Half the Story: When Will Western Documentaries Realize They’re Using the Wrong Lens,” 43-45 – p.44).
(The article goes on to state: “As these films attempt to highlight the plights of women in the Global South, they leave out the most crucial element in the telling of these tales: the women’s voices, unmediated and on their own terms. We see India through Oprah’s voiceover, Haiti through Sean Penn’s guidance, and the Eastern Congo through Jude’s tears.” (Padte 45) “These documentaries appear to have missed out entirely on Cultural Relativism 101” (Padte 45) (“Half the Sky,” “The World’s Most Dangerous Place for Women,” and Oprah’s Next Chapter.”
4. Do you have any advice for aspiring documentary filmmakers?
If it’s your passion, do it. Otherwise, take a sober look at the larger picture: 10,000+ entries to the Sundance Film Festival each years, with few documentaries ever making their money back. Is this the best use of your credit card? If it’s for a compelling social issue and will keep you from buying overpriced shoes and trendy cars, it’s probably a good idea to go ahead. But then you must commit to really helping the people in your film. If you’re making a film about preserving the Mayan language, are Mayan linguists going to get copies of the film translated into at least one regional Mayan dialect, or is it only going to be for a Western elite? Can I push to get my film screened by Michelle Obama and at the United Nations, or is it simply going to go on a whirlwind festival tour, to preach to the already-converted? Documentary filmmakers need to think about the impact of their film and how to achieve it even while in pre-production, and then be prepared financially, emotionally, and physically to follow through – which can be a challenge as money gets tighter and tighter, as you get more and more out of shape over the years of production, and as you lose a sense of urgency as you deal with the same topic day in and day out over many years. It’s good to weigh these issues in advance and be truthful with yourself, and not just rush ahead to put the truth-of-the-month in front of the camera.