Food for thought

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The Perennial Plate is a weekly online documentary series dedicated to socially responsible and adventurous eating. Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine are traveling the world exploring the wonders, complexities and stories behind the ever more connected global food system. Hononga got a chance to talk to them between trips to Africa and England.

We are happy to catch you in between travels and have this interview opportunity with you. You seem to be traveling heavily for your documentaries. How much of your time do you actually spend on the road these days?
We travel internationally probably 7 months out of the year. Usually, we will film abroad for a month or two and then come home to edit for a month. Then we are off again.

Do you always travel together?  How do you experience that?
We are a team of two. We both film, edit, and produce all of our documentaries... that is how it has been for about 4 years..so we are very used to it, and we’ve got a very good system while on the road. We’re also married (though that is a recent development... we started travelling together when we had been dating around a year). I don't think there is anyone else whom I could stand travelling this much with.

You experience new food on a daily but which dish from back home do you actually miss the most when you are away on your adventures?
Without fail, the first meal after we return is always pizza.

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In your online weekly documentary series, you cover inspiring food stories from all over the world. How do you discover the people behind these stories in the first place?
We do a lot of research – contacting food writers who live abroad, NGOs, and fair trade organisations. We also reach out to a lot of chefs abroad to see where they source their food... or whether they simply know of someone (an uncle, a grandma, etc...) who raises their own goats, who goes stilt fishing in the ocean, who has an interesting story.

The Perennial Plate is an online format. At the same time, your content is about something very real. Did this ever occur to you as a contradiction? How does the web shape your work and the way you travel?
Making films for the web was a very conscious decision. Daniel had made a feature length film before and it took years to edit and because of the platform (theatres), the audience was limited. Being online gives us the opportunity to film a piece and then put it out to the world more quickly, and with a greater audience.
Also, I think the web is very real. It is becoming the go-to place to watch films and video. So I don't see a contradiction in this. I see putting our films there as a way for more people to access them. Not only that, but it allows the people we’ve filmed to see the films as well.

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Hononga draws in travelling film makers, writers, photographers and artists. Some turned their passion into a profession, others keep it as a side gig. What was the journeylike for you? How did it start and when did you realise that the Perennial Plate could be more than a side project?
Daniel made his first film in 2005-6 with his brothers and cousin - he travelled from Cairo to Cape Town, filming stories about the impact (positive and negative) of foreign aid in Africa.  He 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 he was tired of cooking professionally that he decided to take up film again.  He wanted a way to combine his passion for food, activism and film together into one project.  The Perennial Plate - our weekly documentary series was born from that mashup.

We did two Kickstarter campaigns and raised $10,000, we also acquired sponsors such as Toyota (who sponsored us with a Prius for our road trip around the US), The National Cooperative Grocers Association and a couple others. After we finished our US road trip, we were contacted by the Australian company, Intrepid Travel. They do gastronomical tours around the world and we started up a partnership with them. It was really a dream opportunity for us. We have complete creative control, and they have been great partners to us.
 
How did your life change through the Perennial Plate?
Daniel had previously worked as a chef and filmmaker... so for him, this was a natural progression to do something that was meaningful, related to food and through film. It was around episode 8 when Daniel asked me to hold the camera for him while he butchered a lamb. I had never done any camera work before but was just helping him out. I never would have envisioned this becoming my full-time job. I had previously worked in advertising but felt uninspired -- felt like I wasn't doing something with meaning -- so that is a reason I wanted to do this.
On top of that, before starting this work, I had only been to 3 countries outside the US. In the past 2 years alone, I've been back and forth to 20 countries. It has been really amazing.

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