Fresh Asheville

"Everyone likes food and movies," says Celeste Gray, the force behind the Asheville Food and Environmental Film Festival. The inaugural AFEFF, which Gray intends to make into yet another yearly Asheville celebration, will span four days, and includes a bounty of film screenings, Q-and-As and various food events held at venues ranging from local farms to breweries.

The films featured at the festival, says Gray, run the gamut of topics from the science and technology of food, to raising urban hens, such as what’s shown in the UNCA student-produced film, We Still Lay.

"All of the films point out how our daily choices not only affect our health and the environment, but how something happening in another part of the world can affect a water system in a particular region," says Gray. “They focus on interrelationships worldwide, and how we can actually make a difference together."

Though the central concept may seem a little serious — and the subject matter is indeed important — Gray maintains that there is plenty of fun to be had. "The core group of films uses a lot of humor," she says. "Sure, they're dealing with serious topics, but delivering the message with humor is really important. It's not 'Oh gosh, we're doomed.' It's more light, solution-oriented and inspiring."

One of the featured movies, Fresh, focuses on the problems and consequences of our current food systems, as well as the people working to come up with solutions — much like Celeste Gray is trying to do with the AFEFF.

The director of Fresh, Ana Joanes, says that her movie is intended to start "a delicious revolution."

"We love to eat food that's fresh, artisanal, that has good flavor," says Joanes. "Often, when you get incredibly good food, you also get food that's nutritious, that heals the environment, protects biodiversity and supports your local community," she explains. "So in one swoop, you get something that's good for yourself, that's actually pleasurable in many ways. This is really what Fresh is about." In other words, she says, our actions, like what we choose to eat, have an impact beyond our plate.

Gray, says Joanes, screened Fresh in Asheville earlier this year, and it was received quite well. "She ended up thinking, 'Let's make this part of something bigger — a bigger community event that can take place in Asheville once a year that people would look forward to.' It's really her energy that turned one Fresh screening into this incredible festival," Joanes explains. "It's exciting for us, because we created Fresh with the hope that it would become a platform to turn inspiration into action … and to generate an energy that is helping to transform our communities. And I've heard wonderful things about Asheville, that it's an incredible community."

Gray says that the concept of the festival — a focus on solution-oriented and healthy living — is one that's always been near and dear to her heart. She grew up snacking on her grandparents’ farm-fresh veggies, and attributes her mother's cancer survival to a healthy lifestyle.

Gray also adds that the film festival is for everyone. This isn't a healthy-living festival for the self-righteous elite (my words, not hers). "I do believe that there's enough diversity that it will appeal to a large group of people," she says. "Everyone's invited. All of the films effect everyone worldwide — not a certain class of people."

One of the great things about this event, she points out, is that the films aren't available elsewhere. "It's a unique opportunity to see these screenings, plus some of the directors and producers will be attending and leading Q-and-As," says Gray.

The AFEFF will kick off with a catered dinner event at at Eyes of Blue Farm, 10 minutes north of downtown. Sundance Power Systems will provide Asheville’s first and only "Solar Cinema" for a carbon-neutral farm screening of the first of the films. A biodiesel-fueled shuttle will be provided, as will a local-centric menu from local restaurants like Carmel's, Cucina 24, Bouchon and Modesto. Four days of screenings across town will follow in various venues across town. For the full schedule, see page 47.

For more information, visit freshasheville.com

— Mackensy Lunsford can be reached at food@mountainx.com

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