November 12, 2020 (Wolfville, NS) Devour! The Food Film Fest wrapped up its first ever hybrid online and in-person festival on October 25, 2020, proving that not even a global pandemic can stop the fest from dishing out some good old-fashioned fun, with a generous serving of innovative programming. Devour! 9.5 offered 21 in-person film screenings, 44 streamed films, eight live and in-person workshops, and five in-person signature events.
While Devour! is typically a destination festival attracting international chefs and guests to Wolfville, Nova Scotia during the shoulder season, this year’s festival transitioned to offer a hybrid programming, making it one of only a few festivals to offer any in-person events in Canada.
Even with scaled-back on in-person events, like the popular celebrity chef dinners, Devour! exceeded its ticket sales target with a schedule of online and in-person, physically distanced screenings and events. Approximately 1,671 attendees tuned in online from Newfoundland to British Columbia and internationally from Spain, Italy and the United States among others, while 1,853 Atlantic Canadians joined in person.
Devour!’s Executive Director, Michael Howell, says Devour! had an advantage over some other festival giants that were forced to cancel events in the spring, giving these seasoned festival organizers the chance to re-imagine their fest in new and delicious ways.
“We were afforded the luxury of four months to find new-to-us technology that allowed us to stream almost all of our films and in-person workshops. Although it was initially a challenge, that’s the way the cookie crumbles – and it was well worth seeing everyone have fun in person in what feels like one of the safest places on earth right now,” says Howell.
Local chefs led physically distanced workshops in-person from Devour! Headquarters in Wolfville, including MasterChef Canada winner Jennifer Crawford and Chefs Craig Flinn, Renée Lavallée and Martin Ruiz Salvador. While Crawford joked during their workshop that they wished technology existed so that online viewers could smell what was cooking at Devour! HQ, those streaming the workshops were sent recipes and cooked alongside the talented chefs.
Innovative thinking brought new events to the festival this year, including screenings at The Valley Drive In Theatre, which hosted the Opening Gala Film Disney’s Ratatouille curated by celebrity headliner Phil Rosenthal. Viewers watched and beeped car horns to applaud the film and a streamed Q&A with festival host Bob Blumer, where Rosenthal revealed he hoped to visit Wolfville next year to get a taste of Devour! in person. Chefs & Shorts was also presented at the drive in, which included six gourmet “snacks” matched to six different short films, made by participating chefs and distributed to guests in their vehicles upon arrival.
Festival favourite “Beyond Terroir” featured Mi’kmaq culture, highlighting Mi’kmaq leadership, cultural representatives and allies in a walking tour at outdoor fire pit stations at Benjamin Bridge where guests were treated to food and drink pairings curated by Chef Jason Lynch. Following a performance by the Iron Tide drummers from the Millbrook First Nation, Chief Sidney Peters described it as an event in the spirit of friendship, dialogue, and learning.
Devour! was also pleased to hold staple in-person events like the Mayor’s Bike Ride, The Great Devour! Community Supper in support of regional food banks, and the re-imagined Chowder Smackdown To-Go, a competition where people emailed in their votes to help crown the defending champions for a third year in a row, Luckett Vineyards.
“This was a wildly different year for us, but as a fast-paced festival that typically hosts a whirlwind of 100+ events, bringing thousands of people into the province at once, we were up for the challenge,” says Managing Director, Lia Rinaldo. “In the end, we were actually thrilled to stream films and workshops with out-of-province chefs like Nuit Regular, and celebrities like Jason Priestley and Jacques Pépin, while also welcoming new guests virtually who may have always wanted to join us in person but couldn’t make it to Wolfville.”
Devour! safely continued the youth and student program this year with virtual programming streamed in classrooms through The Scotiabank Big Picture Program, and online Cooking Master Classes for Youth were led by culinary instructors and students from George Brown Culinary School (Toronto), PICA (Vancouver) and the Nova Scotia Community College. Taking home this year’s big win for the Nourish Nova Scotia youth Food & Film Challenge was Grace Mimnagh for her film Climate Change and Food, which screened at Devour! 9.5’s Opening Gala.
Film highlights included local feature film Bread in the Bones directed by Darrell Varga and Truffle Hunters, directed by Michael Dweck & Gregory Kershaw, with physically distanced screenings, all held at the Al Whittle Theatre.
“We weren’t sure what this year’s festival would look like, but we couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out,” says Howell. “Although we can’t wait to bring back our full programming, we’re excited about the possibilities of becoming more accessible online, and we even had the pleasure of experiencing some unexpected downtime to enjoy staff bonding together as a core team.”
And that, as they say, is the icing on the cake.
About Devour! The Food Film Fest
Devour! is a transformative food and film experience combining cinematic excellence with extraordinary gastronomic activities. The annual festival typically hosts 100+ events, celebrated filmmakers and high-profile chefs from around the globe. Devour! takes place in Wolfville, Kings County, the agricultural heartland of Nova Scotia; home to a thriving wine industry and hospitable community with a longstanding farm-to-table ethos. Devour! aims to inspire people to think differently about food and create a deeper connection to it. The 2021 fest is scheduled for October 19-24.
Central and Western Canada, International