Ridgefield Premiere of ‘A Fine Line’ Spotlights Fairfield County Women Chiefs

RIDGEFIELD – The opening night of the 2021 Ridgefield Independent Film Festival will awaken the audience’s senses of taste and smell as well as their sense of sight.

On October 7, the Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center will host a screening of the award-winning documentary “A Fine Line,” directed by Ridgefield resident Joanna James. Prior to the screening, guests will enjoy delicious meals prepared by female chefs from the Fairfield County area.

“A Fine Line” explores an alarming gender gap in the restaurant industry, told by renowned female chefs and restaurateurs. It includes Dominique Crenn – the only female chef in the United States with three Michelin stars to her name – Emmy-winning television host Lidia Bastianich and first female Iron Chef, Cat Cora. It also follows the story of a small town restaurateur, Valerie James, a single mother raising two children while navigating the industry.

According to Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation, the culinary talent of Fairfield County was called upon to organize the event to highlight the hardworking women who take up space in the kitchen despite less than 7% of female restaurant owners in the United States.

Hearst Connecticut Media spoke with James ahead of the local premiere.

Question: What inspired you to explore the gender disparity in the restaurant industry?

James: I was raised in the restaurant industry by the ultimate mom boss who loved what she did and was really good at it. So I was totally shocked to learn that less than 7% of chefs and restaurateurs are women, especially when it comes to cooking – most male chefs attribute their success to their mother or to their grandmother. But the sad truth is that in all industries there is a significant void of women in leadership.

Question: How does your documentary address or respond to this divergence?

James: Using the culinary example to explore gender equality is very disarming because that’s the beauty of food – it naturally brings people together, even on film. We are able to dig deep into the reasons, and they apply across the board. The film resonated with women in various fields and men as well, because at the heart of the film is an underdog story – someone on a mission to triumph against all odds, regardless of gender.

Question: How has your non-profit organization worked to provide more opportunities for women looking to break into or advance their careers in the industry?

James: MAPP was developed after taking “A Fine Line” on a screening tour across the country, recognizing incredible female chefs and restaurateurs who we felt were not getting the praise and press they deserved. We would screen the film, honor these women in their communities, and have critical conversations to get to the heart of what (prevents) more women from accessing leadership (roles). As a working mom, I also (know) firsthand how important many of these issues were – paid family leave, flexible hours, mentoring. MAPP aims to show the power of a mutually uplifting brotherhood to advance our careers and bring our powerful male allies into the mix.

Question: How do events like the Celebration of Food & Film showcase the unsung female talent of the Fairfield County restaurant industry?

James: A lot of times people want to support women-led businesses because… We love to spotlight these phenomenal women and let the public know how important it is for these restaurateurs to know their community concerns.

Think of Jessica Wolcott who has owned the Ancient Mariner for over 30 years and is still there for her community. Or Barbara Nevins from Southwest Cafe and Sarah Bioussou from Bernard’s, who worked with MAPP last year to feed essential workers. It’s not really about the money – it’s about seeing people share a meal at their establishment, creating lasting memories. This is why it is so important to support our local restaurants.

Question: What does showing the documentary in Ridgefield mean?

James: As a new Ridgefield resident who moved to town just over a year ago, it has been so wonderful to have the support of the community. As a foodie and filmmaker, I can tell you how special it is to have such a fabulous film festival with RIFF and such amazing restaurants to choose from every night. My husband and I still pinch each other.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Filmmakers Lab at MAPP and Ridgefield High School. Tickets can be purchased at www.riffct.org.

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