The TOAST of Berlin -Â or a Balti and Bubbly with Dieter Kosslick
With West Midland-filmed TOAST tickling tastebuds at the Berlin Film Festival, Roger Shannon looks at how a Balsall Heath balti played a big role in the evolution of UK regional film funding.
The news that Dieter Kosslick, the flamboyant director of the Berlin Film Festival, has selected the film TOAST for a special screening in the 'Culinary Cinema' section of this most prestigious of film festivals is an excellent testament to the emerging international appeal of this West Midlands-set film, which was such a success in the BBC's Xmas schedule.
The Berlin Film Festival, aka the Berlinale, is the second most important after Cannes in the film festival pantheon, and runs from February 10 for 10 days.
Dieter Kosslick, a gourmand himself, is so enamoured of TOAST that, as well as a screening in the Culinary Cinema section, TOAST will also have a red carpet out-of-competition gala screening, and attending will be Helena Bonham Carter and director SJ Clarkson.
However, it's not the first time that the charismatic Kosslick has tasted the culinary delights of this region - cinematic or otherwise!
Dieter Kosslick's fondness for TOAST represents a second course in the appreciation of the culinary Midlands for the Berlinale director.
In the late 1980s, as a festival director myself, I invited Dieter Kosslick to attend the Birmingham Film/TV Festival in order to introduce to UK film industry professionals to the ground-breaking work he was doing at that time as director of the Hamburg Film Fund.
Other invited guests were from Location Berlin, the New York Film Commission, the Toronto Film Office etc.
This was the first time that such industry professionals had been invited to the UK to talk about their respective film models.
The impact of the Birmingham Festival Cities Forum was such that it led to a spate of UK cities setting up their own film offices in efforts to attract films to their regions.
Where Birmingham went, Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield, Manchester followed.....
Dieter introduced to UK film industry professionals the Hamburg funding effect - a film funding strategy that encompassed both inward investment, and indigenous industry support.
After a long day's discussion on such matters during the Birmingham Film Festival - endearingly nick named the 'Birminale' - Dieter Kosslick, in a manifestation of his renowned hospitality, took a whole bunch of festival visitors out for dinner; but not any kind of dinner.
'Let's put the 'fun' back into 'funding' was his battle cry! He wanted to try out the Balti.
And so, I have fond memories of Dieter tucking energetically into a Balti at Adils on Stoney Lane, Balsall Heath, with myself, festival chairman Pogus Caesar and a host of international visitors - a Balti that was washed down with a crate of Dieter's finest champagne, which somehow arrived on cue!
The waiters at Adils looked on astonished as Dieter toasted the Birminale with the champagne and renamed the Balti as 'finger food' - they loved it.
More than twenty years later, the region's culinary circle is completed with Dieter Kosslick's fondness for Nigel Slater's TOAST.
And another circle is completed too; Dieter's ideas for Regional Film Funds took root in the UK in the nineties and blossomed some years later.
The fund that backed TOAST, from Screen WM, was born out of those Balti - and bubbly - infused discussions.
"Give Food a Chance" is the theme of the 5th Culinary Cinema at the 61st Berlinale, from February 13 to 18, 2011.
Twelve films, including TOAST, about food and the environment have been selected.
After each film, the renowned chef Sonja FrÃŒhsammer as well as Michelin star chefs Michael Hoffmann, Thomas Kammeier, Michael Kempf and Tim Raue will serve meals that have been inspired by the films.
As Dieter Kosslick says of this year's Culinary Cinema -: "Let's give food a chance to become the focal point of our lives again and not poisonous junk disguised as food.
"Five years ago we launched Culinary Cinema to call attention to the relationship between film, culture, cuisine and the environment.
"Food brings people together and connects them to their surroundings. A country's cuisine is a yardstick of its culture."
It's therefore very appropriate that TOAST features so prominently in the Culinary Cinema section in Berlin - from lemon meringue pies to spaghetti bolognaise, food is at the very heart of TOAST, a feature film adaptation of Nigel Slater's memoirs of his 'sixties Wolverhampton childhood.
TOAST was adapted for the screen by 'Billy Elliot' screenwriter, Lee Hall, and the cast includes Helena Bonham Carter, Freddie Highmore, Oscar Kennedy, and Ken Stott.
Financed by Screen WM and BBC Films, TOAST was filmed at locations in and around Birmingham, and produced by Ruby Films.
The film shows a young Nigel Slater dealing with his own sexuality, the death of his mother, the challenge of a new stepmother (played by Helena Bonham Carter) and his overbearing father (Ken Stott).
It also maps Nigel's culinary journey, sometimes comical, sometimes tragic, always edible.
SJ Clarkson, for whom TOAST is a debut movie, has also directed television drama such as Doctors, Heroes and Ugly Betty,
The film is set in Slater's home town of Wolverhampton, and was shot in the region.
Investment from regional screen agency Screen WM ensured that shooting would take place in and around the region, with locations ranging from a disused Victorian bank to the University of Birmingham, from the Barber Institute to Highbury Hall inter alia.
TOAST was part financed by the BBC, for whom the film was a success in the Xmas television schedules. Outside the UK, the film is being sold as a theatrical feature film.
Roger Shannon is executive Producer of Swish Films and Professor at Edge Hill University, near Liverpool