Full House for The Golden Harvest Debut at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival

fullsizeoutput_117e(March 14, 2019) The Golden Harvest (2019, 85 min) made its debut on March 4, 2019 at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival to a full house.  The screening was followed by a lively Q & A that continued onto the pier along the fabulous arthouse area of the city where the majority of the festival takes place.

Greeks have the highest consumption of olive oil in the world, so it is no surprise that the audience reacted with tears and laughter to The Golden Harvest, which weaves the 6,000-year old love story between the people of the Mediterranean and their olive trees through personal tales in Palestine, Greece, Italy, Spain and Israel, including that of the filmmaker’s father.

“We are delighted that the film debuted in Thessaloniki, one of the top 10 international film festivals, and in a country where part of the film was shot,” says Alia Yunis, the director/writer.

The Golden Harvest is not just a foodie film, although there is plenty for foodies to savor, including learning from one of the top tasters in the world how to evaluate oil. But through a unique cast of characters, the film tackles the social and political dimensions of olive trees, including environmental issues, war, globalization, the European Union, marketing and branding, and Fair Trade, all of which impact this genie in a bottle.

“After seeing this film, I changed my mind about selling my family’s olive trees,” one audience member announced during the Q & A.

Alia was joined on stage for the Q & A by Pavlos Georgiadis, who is the youngest farmer in Makkri, his village in the Thrace region of northeastern Greece.  His family is one of the many families that the film introduces to viewers.

“This film was inspired by my dad’s love of the olive tree, and I started noticing when talking to others with roots in the Mediterranean that the mention of olive oil opens up their souls and uncorks to their own heritage,” Alia says. “We shot over 80 hours of footage over four years, and the stories just kept coming.  This is just a taste of all this tree can tell us about ourselves.”

The film is next schedules to play at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival in April.

For further information, please contact info@goldenharvestfilm.org  and/or visit www.goldenharvestfilm.org

To contribute to the financing still needed for the marketing and distribution of the film, please visit the non-profit, UNESCO member NGO collecting funding for the film: https://www.heritage-activities.org/food-and-heritage  All individuals and institutions who donate receive a mention in the thanks, as well as their logo in the credits, if desired.58a06575-73ad-4593-96d9-d16c30aadec9

The Schedule for Thessaloniki International Film Festival

POSTER-GOLDEN HARVEST GreenWe are delighted that The Golden Harvest will make its international debut at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival .  Please join us if you can!

For more information, visit:  https://www.filmfestival.gr/en/movie/movie/11920

TONIA MARKETAKI 04 March 2019 15:30
JOHN CASSAVETES 05 March 2019 12:45

The Golden Harvest to Premiere at Thessaloniki International Film Festival

Every filmmaker making a film on her own dreams of it opening at a Top 10 ranked festival.  We are delighted thus that The Golden Harvest will make its debut on March 4 at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival in Greece.  Not only is it a great festival–it’s in the country with the highest per capita consumption of olive oil.  We’ll post photos later.  More Information on The Golden Harvest

Filming at Monte Testaccio in Rome38143468_10156701536623447_2233407483823521792_o

 

The Golden Harvest in Post Production

This morning I was walking along a street in Amman, Jordan and came across several

The Crew in Salento, Italy

The Crew in Salento, Italy. Photo by Fabio Fassone.

people parking plastic chairs near the olive trees planted inexplicably along the city’s public  sidewalks.  They’d climb onto the chairs and start picking the olives off by hand and putting into sacks. What I’ve learned making THE GOLDEN HARVEST is that they are picking too early.  The olives are still too green for oil.  But if they want them for table olives, they’ll do okay.

Seeing these people today reminded me of why we’re making this film and just how hard it is to make a film.  So I thought I’d give a little update.  We’re in post production now.

We’ve filmed in four countries, and have a couple more to go. Along the way we’ve sampled a tremendous amount of great (and sometimes not so great) olive oil. When I sample those oils at home now, they remind of the exact trees they come from, because they taste and smell of the wind and sea and soil of that spot. Maybe that is one of the reasons olive oil stirs up so many emotions. The idea for this film began several years ago when my father passed away, and I tried to think of the times where he was happiest. And it was around the time of the olive harvest,when people would come to him to taste the oil from their harvest. My father hadn’t lived among olive trees since his youth, and I’m not sure he knew what virgin and extra virgin olive pressing meant, but that passion for the oil—for great oil—never left him. How could it? It was in almost everything he ate, and sometimes he just had a straight shot of it as a pick me up. When I started mentioning some of the olive oil stories of mine to other people with Mediterranean roots, it inevitably formed led to them telling me their own stories, all with as much emotion as if they were telling me about their first loves.   And so the process began…it’s been a regional effort, with great co-producers in Italy, Greece, Spain and Palestine. And we’ve brought together just some of the stories of that people along the olive oil route, tales of love, faith, pain and triumph—not to mention science, medicine and needless to say, great food.  CU Fresh OilIn the coming months, I’ll start introducing you to the crew and the people we’ve met–along with their favorite olive oil recipes.

The Golden Harvest Time

It’s my favorite season of the year—olive harvest season in the Mediterranean.   My friends let me know how bountiful they expect it to be this year in their area (drought hasn’t been

A First Batch of Olives

A First Batch of Olives

very helpful in much of the region) and whether they’ve started to pick the trees yet or if they have a few weeks to go.

Some of these friends are new in my life, part of the past year I spent researching olive oil before we started filming “The Golden Harvest” (More updates on that soon)

I haven’t met all the 600 plus varieties of olives out there (although I’ve met a scientist in Cordoba who is attempting to collect them all, after studying olives for 40 years). And I haven’t met all the thousands and thousands of people who somehow make their living from olive oil –whose families have perhaps done so for millennia. But each person teaches me something new.

There are some things you clearly remember hearing about for the first time—bungee jumping, libraries, sex, sushi. Then there are things you’ve known since your mom massaged your baby feet with olive oil, things like whatever is for dinner, it probably tastes better with a drizzle of oil. I can’t remember when I didn’t know that or that a shot of olive oil in the morning is the key to longevity, according to all relatives over 65-years old.

Some Olives in Madrid

Some Olives in Madrid

Outside the kitchen, it becomes, in addition to the favorite bathing soap, the answer to most household problems. Maybe some of the reasons are a little old fashioned, like acting as a sealant for your pyramidal crypt, or fuel to light a lamp, but the list just seems to evolve and grow. Here’s a few that I hear a lot.

  1. Hair Conditioner: Half an hour to an hour on the hair, wrapped in a shower cap. Bonus—add in a couple of spoonfuls of yogurt. Messier but magical.
  2. Make Up Remover: I don’t wear eye make-up often because I’m highly unskilled with kohl pencils, and I end up looking more like ghost than a beauty queen. But any disastrous results are quickly wiped away with a cotton swab soaked in olive oil. No fear, no smear.
  3. Facial moisturizer and exfoliator: Put on face at night and wake up with skin like a baby.
  4. Speaking of babies, it works as a diaper rash alleviator. But in moderation, because of the above mentioned exfoliating properties.
  5. Acne killer: particularly when mixed with rosehip oil and dabbed on the spot.
  6. Furniture polish: when mixed with a little lemon juice, it makes a pledge to keep your furniture shiny.
  7. Conditioner for leather shoes and furniture: But I’ve also heard to proceed with moderation on this one as too much can result in oil spots.
  8. Fix a squeaky hinge—without the nasty WD smell. Same goes for zippers.
  9. Relieve joint pain and arthritis because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Said properties also combat hemorrhoids (one of those things people whisper about, so I buried it in with another tip, although I think if we ate more olive oil, we’d have less hemorrhoids in the world).
  10. Ease Depression: There’s too much of this going around and the pharmaceutical companies are making a fortune on drugs that can also sometimes have horrific side effects. Olive oil has no side effects –in fact, as part of a balance diet, it can even help you maintain a good weight. *

*These are all things I’ve been told or know from experience—I’m not a doctor! But we’re meeting an amazing one in Athens in “The Golden Harvest.” Stay tuned.

Nut Cases in Jordan

In the Red Sea port of Aqaba, you can relive the romance of Lawrence of Arabia’s adventures on and off film. You’ll discover the CIA-esque intrigue of being able to see Israel/Palestine, Egypt and Saudi Arabia from the same spot. Indeed, it is a grand opportunity to take in a vista of all of the Middle East mess at once. Then there is the pristine diving in the Red Sean and taking advantage of the luxury resort boom—or ordering the delectable local dunise and faridi fish eying you at Ali Baba Restaurant while the camels eye the tourists. All these are legitimate reasons to go to Aqaba, reasons that bring thousands of foreign visitors a year.

But when I ask Jordanians what excites them about Aqaba, they often tell me it’s the nuts. Nuts don’t have a double entendre in Arabic, so they don’t mean the opportunity to hangout with crazy people. That is unless you find it crazy to buy bags of nuts by the kilo on a beach vacation. But that’s what most Jordanians do when they go to Aqaba.    IMG_1447

All these fine nuts are purchased in the downtown shopping souq at the Al Shaab shop. Actually, the Al Shaab shops. There are eight branches to choose from in Aqaba, and conveniently six of them are on the same street selling the exact same nuts in the exact same heated cases and bins. Three of them are separated by only one other shop. It’s a business model that should defy logic, and yet every one of the stores is teaming at all times with customers, who eventually leave with kilos of the nuts, seeds and Turkish delights stuffed into the shops’ bright signature red and yellow plastic bags. The bags show up everywhere in Aqaba in their post nut-transporting duties as all-purpose totes.

The mom and pop nut shops that are scattered across the souqs and malls of the Middle East make you feel like a kid in a candy store– but with nuts and seeds instead. There are bins and bins of intrigue, each bin magically keeping the nuts toasty warm and freshly roasted. Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts and of course the king of nuts, the pistachios—in nearly countless flavored mixes and matches. There are pure pistachios or pistachios tossed with almonds and hazelnuts and cashews. Or in another combo, the cashew may reign supreme, with the hazelnut coming in second. The almond can be the leader of the pack, too. Sometimes the nuts are salted, sometimes raw, sometimes smoked.

Like everywhere else in the world, peanuts are price reducer. But the biggest way to cheapen the bag is the addition of pumpkin seeds. These are the big, salt crusted white seeds that Arabs seem to be able to crack open for the meat and still spit out the shell while doing just about anything, especially playing backgammon, drinking coffee, and smoking shisha in a café in Aqaba. The also popular watermelon seeds require even more crack and spit skills, which is why the uninitiated just chew on them, like me.   I blame my incompetence on the fact that I didn’t grow up with nuts serving the same purpose as my Arab relations.  They don’t say it, but nuts are a habit at a gathering of people, like coffee is, but they are also a way to pass the time–crack, spit, chew.  And in so much of the Arab world it feels like people are gathering to pass the time because there is nothing else to do with time.  And maybe nuts provide an entertaining diversion–yes, sometimes it’s a fun challenge yourself to see if the seed will actually come out of the shell.

Al Shaab Nuts

Al Shaab Nuts

The peanut is often in the mix, but it is actually a bean, and in Arabic fuol Sudani (Sudanese bean) is the word for peanuts. And it’s not the only bean in the shop. There is seemingly not enough you can do with a chickpea. Those craving sweets can enjoy the pink and blue sugared edomi, which are dry roasted chickpeas. I prefer them salted than sweet. Beyond the crunch, there is the comforting pasty quality. For more sweet, there is of course the sugar coated Jordan almonds, which do not have the descriptor “Jordan” in Jordan or the rest of the Middle East, where they are ubiquitous on silver platters at weddings and holidays. For an even bigger sweet tooth, raha, a range of rose and orange blossom flower infused Turkish delight-esque squares packed with pistachios and walnuts, is the big seller. I like them best when they are rolled up in dried apricot wrappers. But my favorite is semsemia, the squares of gooey or crunchy toasted sesame with sugar and honey.  Unlike nuts in a bag, semsemia is a comforting sugar rush that makes you want to go out and conquer the world.

Today, peanuts are also sold in candied form, which is not traditional. Peanuts are named for the Sudanese peddlers who once roamed the streets of the Levant and North Africa in more peaceful times selling hot peanuts. I’m less sure why pistachios are called fousto halabi (which means Aleppo nut), because they mostly come from Iran. But I can only imagine how much more confusing it would be for Asians to find a variety of coated peanuts and nacho-flavored crunchy balls, called Asian crackers or Japanese crackers or Chinese crackers, depending on the shop. And the American corn nut and wasabi peas are mainstays these days.

So the Jordan nut shop has globalized itself.  There are ever more ways to pass the time.  As I watched people get onto the bus as we were leaving Aqaba, their overnight suitcases sometimes seemed dwarfed by the kilos and kilos of Al Shaab nuts they were also toting. On the four-hour drive back to Amman as my Kindle bounced around on my lap, I heard people munching on Al Shaab nuts and seeds. No one else had a book. As I heard a kid get yelled at by his mom for trying to open a closed pistachio with his teeth, I thought about how if those eight Al Shaab stores were bookstores, they’d be empty. And thus the nuts win in the Middle East.

Or the Beach

Or the Beach

The Sweet Spot in Arabia

I have never heard an Arab woman call her sweetheart the Arabic word for honey—or vice versus–even though Arabic is a language with scores of other terms of endearment. I have never read any Arabic children’s stories about goofy bears getting stuck in honey pots, and I’ve never seen honey come in cutely shaped squeezable bottles at the souq. And yet honey is the queen bee of foods in the Arabian Peninsula, specifically in south Saudi Arabia, a region that is on a perennial honeymoon with honey.

Honeycombs at Abha Souq

Honeycombs at Abha Souq

The word honeymoon does in fact exist in Arabic, and women in Arabia prepare for it meticulously, including buying the skimpiest silkies at enough lingerie shops to make Victoria’s Secret wonder who really knows the secret. But the honeymoon is a relatively modern practice and a literal translation based on, depending who your source is, a 16th century British cynic’s observation that marriage is really only joyful for its first moon cycle, an ancient custom of newly married couples imbibing aphrodisiac honey wine (mead), or a Babylonian practice of a groom giving his bride’s father all the mead he can drink during the first month of marriage.

This Babylonian story is closest to home geographically, but under Saudi laws, no one today is making honey wine, at least not legally. Not that honey is without its legal loopholes: Undocumented Yemeni workers have been caught peddling honey from their homeland—legend or desert myth has it that honey smugglers transport coveted Yemeni honey across the border either as is or with other goodies, from weapons to drugs, nestled in its highly prized gooeyness.

Abha Honey Farmer

Abha Honey Farmer

In the souq in the southern Saudi city of Abha, honey is the most competitive product being hocked, with vendors calling out the virtues of the local honey—color, thickness, taste—to veiled women who discreetly lift up their niqabs to take a tasting from the plastic spoon offered to them. Not even dates (as in the food) can compete for attention. People will go by chickens being de-feathered and piles of greens, but just like the flies, they can’t ignore the honeycombs on the sidewalk.

I read somewhere once that along with the Germans, the Saudis are the world’s biggest consumers of honey. But I never thought of honey as an art form until I got to the Abha souq. After sampling a few, we discovered that every beekeepers honey has its own color, texture, and nuanced sweetness—and sometimes even its own bite and acquired taste.

Honey shops across the Middle East will tell you that the best stuff comes from Yemen, from the sidr tree. It often costs three times as much as other types in the region, even more than the much-loved samar honey, which is culled from a thorny tree the blooms for only a month or so. What Gucci and Pucci are to the Dubai Mall, samar and sidr are to the world of honey, both luxurious in complexity and alleged through their rich minerals and vitamins to prevent cancer, skin disease, hair loss, weight gain and diseases yet to be discovered. I’ve been recommended honey at different stages in my life to resolve dry hair, acne, headaches, cramps, and insomnia. (As a hair or face mask, messy, messy)

Yemeni Honey Vendor

Yemeni Honey Vendor

Samar honey, which comes in various shades of gold, is sweet and light, stuff you can easily understand Winnie-the-Pooh trying to score. But with the red-toned sidr honey, my first spoonful was like medicine, a layered pungency with an overpowering smell that made me say “yuck” out loud.

People seemed genuinely offended by my reaction. To be fair, it was just that sidr. It was thick and slightly waxy, which I learned fro a Saudi honey seller meant that it was processed, not raw. Sitting with his honeycombs, he offered a sampling of his sidr honey, which was thin and lush and melted on your tongue like butter on a hot day. (The weather in Abha is actually not that hot because of the altitude)

The local version of butter is indeed honey’s sweetheart here. “Every morning we eat honey with samna,” a Saudi painter with a studio in Abha told me. Samna is clarified butter or ghee from sheep’s milk. It is definitely an acquired taste I didn’t wish to acquire beyond the first try. At the souq, the samna is sold in mosaic-patterned containers or in skin sacks the size of small lambs.

For all the honey of Arabia, there is little creativity in its culinary use in Abha: It is simply the kick to various forms of bread and porridge, which are topped with honey –and often samna. The breads and porridges are not sold at the souq, but many originate from the valley’s rich wheat fields.

Selling Samna sacks and Jars

Selling Samna sacks and Jars

When I brought home the Abha honey and put it up against the other honeys in the kitchen, it was, as the vendor I finally settled on promised, so much richer than the others, not in color or thickness but in the purity—not sugary, not waxy, just a sweet flowery, lively smooth spoonful that takes one to a green field somewhere, full of sophisticated gradations of flavor and life.