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 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.
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 hearth – American 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
SOUND MIXER: Dave West
LENGTH / RUN-TIME: 81 Minutes
FORMAT: DVD Video NTSC
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.