Grandmothers officially became intangible cultural heritage in January this year. That’s when the Grandmas Project, a collaborative webseries launched by French filmmaker Jonas Pariente, was rewarded with UNESCO patronage.
It’s not difficult to understand the interest from the UN’s cultural and educational arm. The Grandmas Project uses the very 21st-century means of digital technology to celebrate one of the most age-old modes of human connection: the handing down of recipes from one generation to another.
On paper at least, the Grandmas Project is beguilingly simple. It’s a series of eight-minute videos, each featuring a grandmother cooking her favourite recipe, filmed by her own grandchild. Calling it an archival food project falls short of the reality, however, because it quickly turns out that the beloved recipes at the heart of any family are enmeshed with history, culture and tradition. Talking about food means so much more than talking about food.
A first season of Grandmas Project, due to be launched in March next year, aims to film 30 recipes within the eight-minute format (four pilots have been completed and can be viewed online). To date, the Grandmas Project has received 80 entries from a globally diverse swath including Russia, India, Brazil and the UK.
One entry has been received from Australia, from a food blogger sister and her filmmaker brother and their Chilean grandmother, says Pariente, who was spurred to launch the Grandmas Project based on his own relationship with his Egyptian and Polish grandmothers.
So far that’s the only entry from our shores, but there may be more on the way. “We were also approached by filmmakers from Aboriginal background,” he says. “There seems to be a great potential for telling a story of Australia’s Aboriginal revival through food. Maybe revival isn’t the right word. But it seems that exploring Aboriginal cuisine is a great entry point to tackle the broader topic of Australia and its Aboriginal communities.”
The most recently released pilot is a recipe for knedle, a gnocchi-like potato-based dessert. The knedle is made by Croatian grandmother Dragica Karazija. The film is made by her granddaughter Iva Radivojevic. The opening titles go like this: “When Yugoslavia ceased to exist as a country I was 12 years old. My Croatian mother, sister and I left and moved to Cyprus. My Serbian father stayed in Belgrade. Grandma Dragica was our most frequent visitor. At 18 I made a journey to New York, where I’ve been ever since. I often visit my family in Cyrpus and occasionally my grandma in Zagreb. Here is one such visit.”
Radivojevic’s film is full of wonderful grandmotherly interjections – “Ah, the camera is permanently in her hand!” she mock-complains down the telephone. Nor does Dragica have any time for TV chefs who taste food and put the spoon back in the pot (“Yuck!”). But as the Grandmas Project website points out, perhaps the most telling part of the film – and the entire project – is seen in the tags Radivojevic submitted with her film: #breadcrumbs #alone #dedication #tolerance #death #marriage #mother #sibling #sister #family #face #camera #airplane #religion #three #1992 #1980 #croatia #cyprus #travel #career #film #june #may #emigration #immigration #migration #war #yugoslavia #serbian #english #greek
The Grandmas Project was made possible by crowd-funding on Kickstarter, with 274 backers pledging $21,253 to bring the project to life. Jordan McGarry, director of curation at Vimeo, was an original backer of the project in memory of her Sydney-based grandmother, Peg Wade, who died last year at the age of 97.
“I was immediately enchanted by the project,” says McGarry. “I love the idea of using the technology that is now so accessible – both camera kit and the internet – to capture the stories of previous generations. I think projects like this strike a chord because everyone can take part, and everyone has a story to tell. Sadly my grandparents have all died in the last few years – I really wish my mother’s mother, Peggy, was still around because she was a great cook and I would have loved to have filmed her for the Grandmas Project.I have a small son now, so maybe I’ll film my mum making something on his behalf.”
Only experienced filmmakers or film students can participate – for now, at least. But anyone can contribute a photograph of their grandmother, as well as a short story about her and her cooking.
The call for filmmakers finishes on July 16.