Many of us, if we are lucky enough, have fond memories of our grandmothers whipping up something delicious in the kitchen during our childhoods. However, we didn’t often stop to think about the cultural heritage that may very well be entangled in our beloved dishes and how it relates to our own history. French Filmmaker Jonas Pariente would like us all to explore our connotations of “home” and how we view our cuisine. Pariente, whose grandmothers immigrated to France from Poland and Egypt, respectively, has always been interested in this cultural exchange. “I cook to transmit” he says. Thus, this year Pariente created the collaborative web-series "Grandmas Project" which is supported under the patronage of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) to allow everyone, whether it be filmmakers, writers, or anyone who wants to proudly tell the story of their grandmother and the dishes she cooked that remind us of our history.
I got a chance to ask Pariente, who lives in Paris, a few questions about the project.
Why do you think that oral history passed down by women through food is so important?
Damn, people could write thesis just about that! Before having a general opinion about that, it really just started as a personal experience. Food has been the most direct link to my roots, to the history of my family (Egyptian Jews on my dad's side, Polish Jews on my mom's side, who all migrated to Paris in the late 1950s). It so happens that my grandfathers didn't cook. So for me food equals grandmas. And a bit later, I realized that talking about traditional dishes was a fantastic way to start a discussion about larger topics. Rather than asking my grandma bluntly "Why were you expelled from Egypt?" We started talking about who taught her that one recipe; “Did non-Jews also eat that,” etc.
Because I enjoyed so much having these discussions with my grandma, I developed a habit of always asking people about it. If I meet you in a bar, there's a good chance that after ten to fifteen minutes we'll be discussing where you're from, what were your grandparents cooking, etc.
Have you learned any important lessons while doing Grandmas Project?
I have learned many, this is a tough question. The thing that strikes me the most right now is that when you put a lot of energy and heart in a project like that, you receive a lot of energy and heart in return. Two recent examples: I was contacted by a sound designer based in South of France who offered to do post-production on several films just out of love for the project; two days ago a Paris-based web project manager offered to translate several films, for the same reason. It's a tough thing moving forward with close to no financing but it creates a different circle of good will that is quite amazing to witness.
The other thing, maybe not a lesson but a delightful surprise, is that people are actually thankful for participating to the project. Whether it is filmmakers or people simply sending us a photo and short story, people appreciate that Grandmas Project made them spend time with their grandma or—if they passed away—made them spend time remembering their grandma. I realize much better now the power of starting a collaborative project. I set up a framework but it's really people's energy that makes it roll.
What has been your favorite recipe you have learned?
I haven’t tried making it yet but Iva’s grandma’s kneddle—a potato dumpling stuffed with either plum or apricot—really looks delicious.
How did UNESCO get involved in Grandmas Project?
I applied to get their patronage. It's a really lengthy process. One of the conditions is that you have to be financially independent. So the Kickstarter money made a difference there. We got a positive answer in January. People there have been quite enthusiastic about the project because we create a discussion about cultural heritage in a digital, collaborative and youth-oriented way.
Receiving UNESCO's patronage (their highest form of support for organizations that are independent from them) has been amazing in terms of visibility, in terms of door-opening, and it helped tremendously in establishing the identity of the "Grandmas Project" as a global, cultural, collective project. I love the idea that sharing our grandmothers' recipes and stories can be associated to a world heritage, belonging to all of us. Last but not least, it adds a great appeal for people who would want to contribute to "Grandmas Project," whether under the form of a film proposal or a simple story (the two options are available here). Wouldn't it feel good to share your grandma's signature recipe with the world and receive a UNESCO stamp on it?
What has been your favorite experience so far?
I love, love, love working with the filmmakers on their films. The process is very intimate because the subject itself is very intimate. I get to understand pretty well the dynamics of their relationship with their grandma, and helping them construct a great film around that is very satisfying.
Besides that, receiving people's simple contributions like http://grandmasproject.org/stories/rada the most recent one is also amazing. Here I don't put any work, I just wake up and see that someone else took the time to find a beautiful picture of his or her grandma, took the time to write her story, and decided to share it with us. These moments really feel like victory.
How many films do you still need to complete your goal of 30 submissions?
We have completed and released four films already and two are in post-production. We'll be selecting 24 proposals from the call for filmmakers.
Much like our own lives, our relationship to food, history, and family is ever-evolving and multimedia projects such as "Grandmas Project" help to chart this journey.
To watch new films from Grandmas Project (warning–you may try to adopt these grandmothers, they are very cute) please check out LinkTV.org. To view or post a recipe, photo or even possibly even create a video about your own Grandmother and to see the initiative grow, please please visit grandmasproject.org.