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Fittingly, I met with SPINNING PLATES writer/director, Joseph Levy, in a restaurant. Restaurants were where Levy spent the better part of the last few years researching, preparing and ultimately shooting the footage that would become his first feature film, SPINNING PLATES. He had worked with food and film before, having produced and directed the Food Network show, “Into the Fire” but this feature is so much bigger than that series. SPINNING PLATES breaks down the hustle and bustle that we all associate with the restaurant industry and reveals the people and the very personal stories behind the food that finds its way onto your plate.

SPINNING PLATES tells the stories of three very different restaurants – one haute cuisine, one community based and one family owned and struggling to stay open. The more you get to know about the people behind the food, the more you develop an appreciation for the food being served and the experience being had by the patrons on the screen. The more you want to devour the food you see on screen too but that’s almost unavoidable when watching a food movie. Much in the same way, the more I spoke with Levy, the more I developed an appreciation for his film. Here are some of the highlights from that conversation.


Levy, center, interviewing one of three restaurant owners.

BLACK SHEEP REVIEWS: The film is dedicated to your father, who passed away recently, and whom you state would have enjoyed eating in these restaurants very much. What was your relationship with food that you shared with him that led you to make this movie?

JOSEPH LEVY: Food was big in my family and my dad loved eating experiences. He loved experiencing the world through food and that got passed down. My dad was a chemist and he would bring me chemicals home to play with when I was young. At a certain point, I bridged the gap between chemistry and food preparation and started looking at them in the same light. Instead of blowing something up, I could eat something up and make other people happy.

I think I have always had a reverence and respect for restaurants as a result. I’ve always been taken by how meaningful food can be, how amazing it is that this plate that you put in front of one person can mean nothing more than a quick meal while another person can read into what went into it and see a story that is traumatic and heartbreaking and humane.


BSR: The structure of the film establishes each of the restaurants identities upfront and then dives deeper and deeper into their struggles and history until you no longer can see them the way you did at the start of the film. Can you elaborate on why you chose this particular structure to tell their stories?

JL: A plate of food put in front of you means something different when you don’t know anything about it or where its come from or about who made it. Then all of a sudden you learn something, you learn more and more about the place that is serving it to you, the people who are making it, and suddenly the food itself takes on a different meaning. You have a different relationship with it. I’ve always thought that a restaurant presents itself to you in certain stages like that.

In the movie, we have these three restaurants that are seemingly disparate. They’re disparate in many ways but you almost wonder why they’re in the same movie. It’s about setting up expectation and defying it. That’s how a restaurant reveals itself.


BSR: You were granted access to these restaurants on a very intimate level. How did you manage to get this close to your subjects?

JL: There are a lot of people who try to tell stories without taking the time to figure out what the story is. How can you tell the story of a chef or an artist or an author if you don’t know anything about their work?

You as the filmmaker have to have a relationship with the subject. I know that there is such a bias against cameras in the kitchen, even more so today because now its so much more ubiquitous. They don’t always appreciate having a camera crew in there pushing them around, telling them what to do. The first night I was at each restaurant, I ate there. The second night, I just stood in the kitchen and just watched, learned the rhythms there, got to know the people there. At the same time, you establish your presence as the kind of person who is willing to put in the time and respect to see what they do.


BSR: How has the SPINNING PLATES experience changed you?

JL: It’s a privilege for the filmmaker to be let in like I was. I didn’t have these life experiences growing up but now when I visit these restaurants, I feel like a part of them. Suddenly, I have this community experience I could have never had before. Part of it is really being a little bit of a chameleon and having, not only the ability, but the desire to step out of your world and into somebody else’s.

BSR: Last question; I wanted to eat the entire time I was watching the film. The whole point of a food movie sometimes is to make everything look as appetizing as possible. Did you gain a lot of weight while you were making this?

JL: In a word, yes.

SPINNING PLATES is currently playing at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. Visit for showtimes and tickets.

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