See, Eat, Talk, Share

Inaugural PEI Fest will showcase film and food with aim of creating shared experiences and meaningful conversations

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” – Virginia Woolf
In an era where we are all fighting the urge to pick up our phones and get lost in countless hours of scrolling, double-tapping, and deciphering inventive hashtags, a new Charlottetown-based festival offers a most welcome remedy: the invitation to slow down.

PEI Fest will celebrate food, film, and ideas against the backdrop of an Island summer. During the three-day, immersive experience that marries culture and cuisine, organizers Colin Stanfield, Cari Borja, and chef John Pritchard want to offer participants an intentional pause from the hectic, smartphone-obsessed lives many of us lead.

The festival is set to take place July 13 to 16 in Charlottetown, and will screen a variety of Canadian and international documentaries alongside a lineup of inspiring, thought-provoking speakers. Food and communal dining, themes also central to the festival, will serve as a catalyst for conversations and shared experiences by bringing people together around the table.

“Our hopes are that through the sharing of food, literally breaking bread together, we stimulate thoughtful discourse and positive interaction. [By] assembling guests in a remarkable location, and nourishing body and mind with seasonal and sustainable examples of PEI terroir, we hope to enrich and fuel ideas and conversation,” Pritchard, the food and beverage director of the inaugural PEI Fest, said.

Chef John Pritchard, food and beverage director of 2017 PEI Fest. Submitted photo.

Having left PEI to pursue a career in music and festival production, Stanfield, the festival president, is eager to create a festival that encapsulates the things he is most passionate about in a place he loves.

“There is nothing quite like that feeling, that electricity, that experience, when you are at a good dinner party. You’re not distracted by telephones and televisions and all the rest, you really look into somebody’s eyes and you’re excited about something either artistic or philosophical or cultural or political. That’s the type of connection that we’re trying to capture,” Stanfield said.

The festival itself was dreamed up at a salon dinner hosted by Borja, the festival’s “dinner directress,” as she’s come to be known. Borja and Stanfield began discussing the often hectic and overstimulating schedules at many film festivals that they’d attended. Much like the day-to-day life that we endure, jam-packed festival itineraries can leave attendees feeling depleted and overwhelmed with each passing day of the festival.

Colin Stanfield, festival president of 2017 PEI Fest. Submitted photo.

That shared frustration led Stanfield and Borja to ask: what if there were a film festival with intentional pauses created by salon dinners that offered the space and time for stimulating yet relaxed and amusing conversations?

“I think we both saw the potential of the role that a gathering of people, like the salons in 18th- and 19th-century France and Italy, could have after a screening of an amazing film… So, PEI [Fest] isn’t about how many films can you squeeze in each day, but let’s listen to one or two amazing speakers in dialogue, see one beautiful film, and then all gather together to reflect on what just happened,” Borja said.

Cari Borja, “dinner directress” of 2017 PEI Fest. Submitted Photo.

“Working with a 100-mile philosophy, diners can expect full-on seasonal examples of what makes PEI Canada’s Food Island… grass-fed beef, foraged wild edibles, sustainably-farmed shellfish, etc. These items will be thoughtfully prepared in such a way as to support the theme of each evening’s spotlight film,” said Pritchard.

The films themselves will also be a treat for those hungry to explore social justice issues through the lens of exceptional documentarians. Opening night will feature Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, a deeply thought-provoking film that explores how some of America’s greatest 20th-century musicians infused and expressed their Native American heritage through their music during an era intent on purging all elements of Indigenous culture from existence. The following night, Girl Unbound will showcase the courage and impressive talents of Maria Toorpakai, a competitive squash player from Pakistan who has risked it all and defied the Taliban to play internationally.

Those willing to put their phones away and immerse themselves in the PEI Fest experience are likely to find that by unplugging, they can begin to recharge and nourish themselves. After all, how can a smartphone begin to compete with the age-old traditions of hearty conversation, communal eating, and evocative storytelling? Simple: it can’t.

About Hanna Hameline

Hanna is a graduate of UPEI with a B.A. in Sociology. She has completed trainings in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Shambhala Meditation, and Maritime Yoga College 200-HR Yoga teacher training program. Hanna currently works as the communications coordinator for the PEI Certified Organic Producers Co-operative and has volunteered with PEI Food Security Network, ECO PEI, The Voluntary Resource Centre, and Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. She warmly invites you to contact her with any food lovin’ stories or ideas you would like written about.

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