FILMMAKER SPOTLIGHT: Harald Friedl, Director of BREAD: AN EVERYDAY MIRACLE

July 4, 2020

BREAD: AN EVERYDAY MIRACLE takes us on an enlightening journey into the European world of bread and its production today. We meet traditional artisan bakers and cereal farmers who can vouch for quality and sustainable ingredients. Director Harald Friedl also shows us the baking factories of transnational food corporations, who go to great technological lengths on their mission to recreate authentic taste. Industrially produced bread is fast becoming an artificial product. How can the craft of baking survive? And what will the bread of the future be like?

SFF Blog contributor Connor Ryan spoke with Friedl ahead of the festival – BREAD: AN EVERYDAY MIRACLE screens during Week 1 (Friday, July 10 – Thursday, July 16) of our virtual Salem Film Fest and tickets can be purchased here.

Director Harald Friedl

Connor Ryan: How did you find this project? Did you know its scope and shape from the outset, or did it evolve over time?

Harald Friedl: It evolved. I love to eat bread and buy it from outstanding bakers in Vienna. So they know me and we talk. I got impressed by their philosophy and started to see the complex relationship between soil, grain, flour, dough, bacteria and yeast, baking skills, techniques and technologies, health issues and the role of the customer. Bakers showed me their skills as flour and dough do not always react the same way every day. Bakers need to be able to handle that. I learned to understand fermentation as a pre-digestive process.

First I thought, this might become a nice TV-documentary about great bakers and their special, individualistic breads. Then I learned about industrial production techniques and their dependence on additives that do not need to be declared on the label. That opened up many more questions. The topic became bigger and more political. I found the industrial baker, a great entrepreneur from Hamburg who is motivated by turnover, profit and market shares, and later the speaker and the CEO of a big Belgian company that sells dough-mixes with enzymes and other additives. By far most industrials, however, would not even talk to me.

CR: How long did you film? Was filming over the course of multiple visits, or did you stay on location for a prolonged period of time?

HF: We had 1 block in two German Harry-factories, 3 blocks with the Belgian Puratos company, 2 blocks with the farmer/EU-politician Martin Haeusling and the Swiss scientist Joelle Ruegg in Stockholm & Brussels, 2 blocks with gourmet-baker Christophe Vasseur and cult-status Apollonia Poilane in Paris and about 6 blocks or so with the natural bakers, the Oefferl family in Austria, which were close and easy to visit.

CR: How much of this film was planning, how much was filming, and how much was editing? Is there one aspect you enjoy more than another? 

HF: It took me one year to research and understand. A big part of it was to select fact from nonsense.  In the second year I deepened my understanding, searched and found my protagonists. And in the third year we shot, edited and did post production.  And of course we were busy trying to get all of this financed.  As to the second question I have to say, no.

CR: How did you find and choose your subjects? 

HF: Every one of the protagonists is excited about what he is doing. So their subjects should circulate around that excitement. Everyone has a particular function in his or her professional life and everyone should remain in his role.

CR: Watching bakers mix, shape and cut dough is strikingly alluring. Why do you think these actions are so evocative? And, as an aside, where did you find the opening clip, and when did you know you would use it?

HF: The actions are basic and simple, and what they create is basic and essential.  Much of what the Austrian family bakery shows has been done like this for thousands of years. And what makes their work particularly alluring today is, that they work with such outstanding diligence. They love what they are doing. Old knowledge und understanding are being revived and bring something to life, as we can see on the Oefferl-Family’s dough. The industrial dough looks lifeless by comparison.

And as for the opening clip: We were looking for a funny historic opening and tried the Salvador Dali video first that now appears later in the film. German Co-producer Carl-Ludwig Rettinger had a vague recollection of some archival footage he once saw of a man squeezing toast bread to a ball. Editor Martin Kayser-Landwehr found BALLING WONDER BREAD from 1976 by US-American artist Karl Simon. Karl Simon granted us the permission to use it, what we are very glad about and greatful for, as this short film sets the right “tone” for the film.

CR: How would you describe the making of this film compared to your earlier works? Has your career followed an arc or progression?

HF: I had greater resources for BREAD compared to previous films. I don’t see an arc in my career and always pursue projects that fascinate me. These can be several at a time. So I once make a film about happiness research in Bhutan (WHAT HAPPINESS IS, 2012), or about old family stores in Vienna (OUT OF TIME, 2006, that won awards in the USA and Canada) or about a US-American friend of mine, who lived, sang and loved in Austria until she passed away (MY LIFE AS AN APPLE TREE, 2012). Or I help a pioneer of organic food in Germany, Volker Schmidt-Skoeries, to write his book on entrepreneurial ethics. Furthermore I write and publish one or two short stories a year in literary anthologies or on Austrian Public Radio. I sing in an Indie-Band and I have been a frequent guest at US-Universities.

All of my films deal with ambiguity – that at last is a only common trait. And I want them to be beautifully shot.

CR: What is the message of your film? What would you like your audience to walk away thinking about?

HF:  One message is, that even something as simple and everyday like bread bears fundamental conflicts and chances. By the example of a loaf you can narrate a big story. And above all, people should walk out with an appetite for the best bread.

BREAD: AN EVERYDAY MIRACLE screens in Week 1 (Friday, July 10 – Thursday, July 16) of our virtual Salem Film Fest and tickets may be purchased here.

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