Posted by Terry on January 13, 2014

The GPLT Movie Series returns with the award-winning PG-rated documentary Spinning Plates at 7:00 pm on Sunday, January 19 at Grande Prairie Live Theatre. I saw this film at the Edmonton International Film Festival and loved it. It’s about three very different restaurants and the people who bring them to life. To quote from the synopsis, “A world-renowned chef competes for the ultimate restaurant prize in Chicago while privately battling a life-threatening condition. A 150-year-old restaurant in Iowa is still standing only because of an unbreakable bond with the community. And a fledgling Mexican restaurant in Tucson struggles as its owners risk everything to survive and provide for their young daughter. Their unforgettable stories of family, legacy, passion and survival come together to reveal how meaningful food can be, and the power it has to connect us to one another.” Tickets are $12 (students $6) at the door or by phoning (780) 538-1616 or online at

Spinning Plates was written, directed, produced, and edited by Joseph Levy who also produced George Lucas in Love, the delightful spoof of how George Lucas came to write the script for Star Wars. It was in our 2008 fest and can be watched here.

The background story about how Spinning Plates was made is also really interesting and I’ll just copy that part of the production notes below:

Joseph Levy developed an interest in food and cooking at an early age. “My father was a chemist,” said the director. “When I was young, he would bring home different materials from his lab and show me exciting science experiments. At a certain age, I discovered cooking and I found that it involved everything I loved about science, but it also tasted good and made people pretty happy.”

“I cooked throughout my childhood and used to talk to my mother about the possibility of opening a restaurant when I got older,” Levy continued. Music, and then film and TV, ultimately took over. “But food was always an important part of my life and my family.”

Levy’s passion for cooking and his professional life as a filmmaker would finally overlap in 2002 while Levy was impatiently waiting for a television show he had set up with MTV to move forward. “I went to a wine tasting that a friend of mine organized at a restaurant, and while I was walking around, I started thinking about how interesting the world of restaurants was and how little I had seen of it on television. So I approached Mark Peel at Campanile, and asked if I might come in with cameras for a few days to put a promo together for a show I wanted to sell to Food Network.”

The show ended up being “Into The Fire”, a James Beard Award nominated Food Network series that looked behind-the-scenes at some of the nation’s most renowned restaurants. “From that point on,” said Levy, “food was a part of my career.”

“Since then,” Levy continued, “I’ve always been drawn to finding and shining a light on the unmanufactured drama and incredible human-interest stories that exist within the world of food and restaurants.”

One of the restaurants featured in “Into The Fire” was Trio, just outside of Chicago, where Grant Achatz was executive chef. “The dinner I had at Trio was the most incredible dining experience of my life,” said Levy, and added, “only to be surpassed by later experiences at Alinea.” The 29-year-old Achatz was a fascinating, driven character. “Two years after opening Alinea, it was named best restaurant in the nation. Two years after that, Grant got the diagnosis that thrust him into a fight for his life,” continued Levy. “He’s one of the most interesting and brilliant people I have ever met, and I really wanted to tell his story.”

“I started thinking about making a film in which three incredibly dissimilar restaurants – three
restaurants that seem to not even belong in the same film with one another – slowly become
superimposed to reveal something greater than the individual parts – something that couldn’t be seen by looking at any one of them alone.”

Achatz would represent the high-profile, high-end culinary world of ratings and “best” lists and imaginative, breakthrough cooking methods. For the second film, Levy wanted a family restaurant. “I was looking for something like a particular restaurant I grew up with in Corpus Christi, Texas, called Andy’s Country Kitchen,” said Levy.

He had never heard of Breitbach’s Country Dining prior to 2010. “I knew the basic blueprint I was looking for – It was a place where everybody seemed to know everyone else and the color of your collar didn’t matter. It was a place where community just happened around food.”

But Corpus has a population of about 300,000 people, and Levy wanted to find a place where the stakes were higher, where the restaurant and the town truly were interconnected. A restaurant that was the heart of the town. “It wasn’t long before I found myself in Balltown, Iowa, a town of about 70 with a restaurant that seats 400 that on some weekends serves 2000,” Levy said. “At the center of this family-owned legacy is a very special and beautiful relationship with its community, and an amazing story of how that relationship was put to the test. Breitbach’s was everything I was looking for and more.”

The third restaurant, La Cocina de Gabby, was difficult to find and took Levy months of searching. “I knew the story I wanted to tell,” described the director, “an ethnic restaurant run by owners who came to the U.S. in search of the American Dream. I also knew that I wanted the drama driving their story to be completely true.”

Levy believes that most viewers of today’s popular cooking shows are misinformed about what really happens in a professional kitchen. “Most of the drama people know of the food world today comes from television,” Levy said, “screaming chefs and mystery basket competitions. I have nothing against that programming, but it’s entertainment… it’s manufactured and it’s an incomplete picture.”

“This couple is trying to save their home from foreclosure and keep their family together while providing for their 3-year-old daughter,” explained Levy. “It’s an important story to tell, because it’s prevalent, and a very real snapshot of a part of the restaurant world that doesn’t get shown.”

So how do you find a restaurant that’s struggling because not many people know about it? Many food trips to many cities led Levy to a taste-bud busting day in San Diego, where he ate at 8 different restaurants in 8 hours. “I searched for hours on the internet for restaurants with only enough presence that I could find them,” said Levy. “That is how I found La Cocina de Gabby.”

Levy was on a plane to Tucson the next morning, and arrived in time for lunch. “I took in the atmosphere and food for an hour, and then finally introduced myself to the owner,” Levy continued. Within minutes, Francisco Martinez was sharing his life story with the director, with his wife and daughter at his side. “There was no question in my mind that this was the restaurant for the film,” Levy said.

Once Alinea and Breitbach’s Country Dining were committed to make the film, Levy was ready to initiate the search for financing. But just as he was about to get started, Levy’s father passed away. “As soon as I emerged from the fog,” said Levy, “I decided I just needed to start making the film. Food has always been important to my family, and my father, in particular, loved eating at restaurants of different cuisines around the world. I decided I wanted to dedicate the film to him, and at that point I was on a mission.”

Levy makes short trailers, or sizzle reels, to present his ideas for a TV or film project to prospective financiers. “I self-financed the shoot at Alinea,” he said, “and cut a pre-production trailer for Spinning Plates using that footage to go after the rest of the budget. Between some of my friends and long-time collaborators, I had a third of the budget raised.”

“I was fortunate enough to have introductions made to Matt Leutwyler and Miranda Bailey at Ambush Entertainment,” continued Levy, “and Phil Rosenthal, who in addition to being the creator of one of the greatest television shows of all time, is a lover of food and an investor in restaurants. They all felt they saw something special in the trailer, and within a short period of time the entire budget was raised. All in all, the experience of putting this film together was incredibly smooth and the support given to me by the investors was invaluable.”

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