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Madison filmmaker’s documentary on Indigenous chefs to screen at New York Latino Film Festival


Alejandro Miranda Cruz’s latest film, “Decolonizing Dinner,” is “very kindred to my own spirit and my own roots, traditional roots,” he says.

The 12-minute short documentary highlights traditional Indigenous food through two Wisconsin chefs: Ho-Chunk Nation member Chef Elena Terry, owner of Wild Bearies, and Chef Anthony Gallarday, a Latino man of Mexica heritage who owns Tavos restaurant in Milwaukee. The chefs tell the story of their own journeys to the culinary profession, as well as the centuries-long history of Indigenous foods. It touches on the centuries-long Mexica relationship with corn, including the genetic engineering ancient people accomplished, as well as the importance of the “three sisters” – beans, corn and squash – to the Ho-Chunk people.

Chef Elena Terry. Screen capture courtesy Alejandro Miranda Cruz.

It will make its New York premiere at the New York Latino Film Festival Friday night.

In an interview with Madison365 Wednesday, the Madison-based filmmaker and founder of production company Bravebird said the 12-minute short documentary is “a very personal film.”

Miranda Cruz said he’s recently been exploring and connecting with his own heritage among the Huichol people of the Sierra Madre mountains in modern-day Mexico and the Taíno people of the Caribbean Islands.

“(The film is) very kindred to my own spirit and my own roots,” he said. “I’m third generation in the US, and I’m trying to reconnect with my native ancestral roots that have been overshadowed or … suppressed for a lot of different reasons, that are not all bad. You basically have families that are trying to assimilate into different cultures to survive and provide for their families. So I’m out of touch with the traditional ways of living from my native ancestors. I don’t know the language, I’m not as familiar with all the customs. That’s just been a personal journey of mine, of learning more about my ancestral roots…. It’s a very personal film. And I wanted to honor and bring beauty and visceral images that are authentic to the native ways of living. I think the documentary does a really good job of doing that through the entry point of food.”

Chef Anthony Gallarday. Screen capture courtesy Alejandro Miranda Cruz.

The film was made in partnership with Centro Hispano and PBS Wisconsin for Centro’s “Evening of Dreaming” event. The film shown at the event was narrated by Sujhey Beisser, a cook and author of the Five Senses Palate food blog. 

Miranda Cruz used much of the same footage for the festival version of the film.

“I met with both chefs and Sujhey just to understand their background and their lives and crafted a visual version of their stories,” Miranda Cruz said.

The film made its debut at Geena Davis’s Bentonville Film Festival in Bentonville, Arkansas. Festival organizers were initially interested in Miranda Cruz’s 2020 feature film “Trace the Line,” but he submitted “Decolonizing Dinner” as well, and they decided to take the latter. It was also screened at the National Association of Latino Independent Producers Media Summit – one of only seven films chosen.

Miranda Cruz said it’s important for Indigenous stories to be told by Indigenous people.

Alejandro Miranda Cruz. Photo supplied via Twitter.

“When you have one demographic that tells most of the stories that we see in media – and it’s typically one gender, one demographic – they typically focus on the trauma, and focus on all the devastation and the being conquered,” he said. “And when you see that coming from  the group that should be telling the story … there’s a different perspective. The focus is different, the focus becomes more on the dignity that’s in these communities.”

The documentary will be screened Friday in New York as one of eight short films in a program titled “For the Culture: Now + Forever.” Tickets are $16 or $25 for a VIP pass. 

The film will be screened locally at the YWCA Racial Justice Summit in late September and at a special event at Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in connection with an exhibit of the work of Indigenous multimedia artist Wendy Red Star. Miranda Cruz will be on hand to speak at both events.