American Dumpling

American Dumpling is an independently produced feature length (81 minute run time) documentary written, directed and narrated by Eileen Nelson.  It is not a documentary about food per se, nor does American Dumpling contain much in the way of useful cooking tips and/or techniques. It is, in fact, a series of informal dialogues with several American families from a variety of immigrant cultures that uses the commonality of the dumpling as comfort food as a starting point for conversation.

American Dumpling
A Simple Story of Flour, Water, and Salt

American Dumpling is a film about families more than food – but food and family go together, else why would all cultures that I know of believe that the hearth is the center of the home?

Before I go further, let me be clear on one thing – It is unusual to the point of uniqueness for me to review or critique films of any sort, much less independent documentaries. Bear with me.

In point of fact, I actively avoid reviewing media offerings, and if the film’s Score Co-Producer, Kelly Mahan Jaramillo, wasn’t one of the few liberal types that I respect in the blogsphere, I wouldn’t have even seen the film much less reviewed it here.

American Dumpling – Review / Critique


In a nutshell the film is a montage of anecdotes from a small number of families and individuals who either are immigrants or are still actively maintaining at least some of the cultures of the peoples they descended from.

The melting pot of America is the melting pot of the dumpling, and although each cook has their own unique little spin they put in the recipe, it still boils down to three ingredients that are absolutely necessary – flour, water, and salt.

In walking out of this film, you get the feeling that you have known all of the characters for years.

American Dumpling

The dumpling – flour, water, and salt – may be the glue that binds the narratives together, but the anecdotes are wide ranging and speak more of people and history than they do of ingredients.

Because people let their guard down when they’re in the kitchen – after all only friends and family are allowed near the hearthAmerican Dumpling provides a rare sort of glimpse into the lives, families, and histories of the people in the movie.

Review / Critique

Let me start with saying that I greatly enjoyed American Dumpling and found the film, not just enjoyable overall, but also quite engrossing. The glimpses the film gives into the lives of the people and families in it is a rare gift, and the glimpses of America’s and world’s history – including parts of it that are rarely spoken of – is even more so.

It is, however, not a polished production being filmed with a single camera / single microphone technique and being quite free-form in nature. While I liked the immediacy and intimacy this technique created, others might find less pleasing. This is not to say that the film is reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project, just that it is less polished and less cinematic than some documentaries have been.

The Good – Or, At Least, What I Especially Liked

  • The intimacy the film had with both the people in it and with its creator & narrator, Eileen Nelson. American Dumpling, especially Eileen’s narrative interjections, is rather “flow of consciousness” in style, but that lets the viewer get a good sense of the people and the filmmaker.
  • The audio track and the scoring worked surprisingly well. This is especially rare in documentaries that take place in noise-filled environment and that were filmed using a single microphone. It was a definite concern of of the Kelly Mahan Jaramillo and the other audio folks in the crew.

The Bad – Or, At Least, What I’d Rework

  • While I liked Eileen’s narration of the film and the sense of herself she brought to it, she is at times a bit disjointed and wanders off-topic a bit. That can be a bit distracting and slightly jarring.
  • American Dumpling was admittedly and obviously meant to be a different and shorter work and some of the editing didn’t take the best advantage of the final longer cut. Some of the cutaways and jumps between people in the film seem to cutoff the speakers and are a bit frustrating.

All in all though, it’s an engrossing and impressive film, especially one by an independent production group operating on a tiny budget. I think it could benefit from some rework and editing, but it is more than worth going to see if it makes it to a film festival near you, and well worth buying on DVD or Direct Download if it becomes available via those formats.

American Dumpling – Credits & Specs

PRODUCER: Eileen Nelson
CO-PRODUCER: Darrell Hanzalik
COMPOSER: Tomás Hradcky
SCORE CO-PRODUCER: Kelly Mahan Jaramillo
EDITING: Eileen Nelson
SOUND SUPERVISOR: Darrell Hanzalik


LENGTH / RUN-TIME: 81 Minutes
AVAILABILITY: To Be Determined

One thing that American Dumpling really shows is that, to a large extent, people are people. The good, the bad, the ugly, the noble, and the base – people project these things onto different and wildly disparate targets but, underneath it all, it’s the same sentiments.

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7 Responses to “American Dumpling”

  1. Kelly Mahan Jaramillo Says:

    This was really unexpected, and boy, does our tiny crew thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful and fair review, made that much more rewarding as this is an area you stay away from.

    I am speaking for the entire (four of us) crew, but I have a feeling you will be getting a comment from the individuals themselves in the very near future.

    So glad you attended, and your insights and suggestions have put a fresh coat of paint on very tired eyes and ears. Don’t be surprised if you find “American Dumpling” Round Two showing up in your DVD box someday 🙂



  2. Tomás Hradcky Says:

    When Kel said you wrote a thoughtful review/critique of our little film I felt it necessary to jump into the larger blogosphere out there and actually take a look on your site. I usually, actually always, have kept my meanderings in the blog world confined to Kel’s. Low and behold I found myself, eyes wide open, staring at your latest post.

    Having to get back to our latest project I voluntarily, albeit with difficulty, went to your rather in-depth musings on “American Dumpling”.

    Thank you for writing about it and for relieving me of my worries that the audio wasn’t as problematic as I felt. I also wish to thank you for taking the time to come down, and let you know how much I enjoyed meeting you, Kel’s most original and favorite online nemesis, and finding out you’re a real live human being after all.

    Onto this post – I’d say you’d make a great fair & balanced critic/reviewer and should consider it as a secondary or even new primary career choice, but for one thing. That is, that I don’t believe the two dictionary descriptions of critic are mutually exclusive and would not harmonically coincide well in your particular brain. The definition below, to me, requires one to dislike something first, then be somehow convinced it may/could possibly/perhaps/could barely conceivably have a modicum of merit.

    critic |?kritik|
    1. a person who expresses an unfavorable opinion of something.
    2. a person who judges the merits of literary, artistic, or musical works, esp. one who does so professionally.

    Since you are fond of going to, and enjoying the multitude of events offered in your fair city, you are excluded from being a professional critic by that very sheer fact – unless you are secretly an angry, bitter, wanna be or washed up writer/director/producer looking to take vengeance out on anything that finds it’s way into their minute, minuscule, panorama.

    Finally, you can see why I stay away from anything blog related as this was to be (and is!) a simple, short and heartfelt thank you.


  3. Eileen Nelson/Darrell Hanzalik Says:

    We find ourselves in the position of having very little to add to the comments of our colleagues. We can only thank you profusely for attending our screening and writing a thoughtful and detailed review of our film. It’s true that this project began as a simple presentation of different kinds of dumplings, but soon it became a study of the disparate people who make the dumplings and their stories. We’re so glad you recognized the real thread binding this film together and the impact we hope it will have on viewers. Thank you also for recommending the film to others. We hope they will follow your advice.

    Thanks again,
    Eileen & Darrell

  4. Kelly Mahan Jaramillo Says:

    What the hell did I put into Tomás’s coffee this morning??? Yes, he occasionally comments on one of my blogs, about three times a year, and usually a quarter amount of the scope of this!

    I stomped my foot and insisted that Tomás likes you more than he likes me:)

    If E. had a blog, I would just spend hours on it, and neglect “Dumpling” and everything else! So there!

    (oh,oh, the ten-year-old is getting cran-ky…..)

    Gotta Run, Bobby is finally writing his first book review today. I think he has chosen “Stuff White People Like”, but he was also gazing at “Stranger in a Strange Land”…….

    Stay warm, stay safe,


  5. jonolan Says:


    It was not a chore in any way to come see American Dumpling so no thanks for that are needed. I enjoyed the film and your company, Kelly and Tomás – and that of Michael and Aminta.


    You “cut your teeth” in the Blogsphere at Reflections From A Murky Pond!?! Talk about jumping straight into the deep end of the pool. 😆

    Thank you for your kind words about my review. It was actually difficult for me to write, both because fair criticism is hard to do and because I was trying to convey a sense of the film while not providing any sort of spoilers.

    I am, in fact, a “failed” writer. My most interesting rejection letter strongly suggested that I seek “professional psychiatric help.” What I’m not is bitter about it.


    You’d know better about what you put in Tomás’ coffee than I would – or any other morning rituals that you might have changed or “enlivened.” 😉 Whatever it was, keep it up. Tomás gives good comment, which is what feeds the beast that is a blogger’s ego.


    Again, it was no chore to do anything that I did, with the possible exception of this review. That, though difficult, was both an interesting challenge and a learning experience – and, therefor, serving my own self-interest in the long run.

  6. Kelly Mahan Jaramillo Says:

    Well, I think I speak for the collective group here, especially myself, who hopes someday to be as good a writer as you are, that a rejection letter suggesting you seek “profession psychiatric help” is a badge of honor, and should be in a frame. 🙂

    My father’s favorite “fan” letters were the ones who hated his books – nothing gave him greater joy than a hate letter.

    You write voraciously, and therefore, are not a failed writer. Published success is not writers success. Look no further than James Patterson.

    And I agree, when Tomás puts his mind to a comment, he gives goooood comment. I live for them.

  7. From New York back to Pittsburgh – Home Sweet Home « Partners On A Dime Says:

    […] delightful and John took the time to write a review of the film on his blog, which you can read here. They also gave a copy to some entertainment reporters they knew to write up a review.  We were […]

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