Legendary documentary filmmakers, D A Pennebaker and his wife, Chris Hegedus, have whipped up a docu concoction that centers on the owner of the French Pastry School of Chicago, as he competes in France’s oldest and most prestigious pastry competition.
Their 84-minute “Kings of Pastry” will screen Friday, Oct. 1 at the Gene Siskel Film Center with the filmmakers present.
“Kings of Pastry” follows French Pastry School owner, Jacques Pfeiffer, as he travels by train to an Alsatian village to train with a former competition winner, and then vies against 15 other chefs in a grueling three-day competition to become the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (Best Craftsman in France).
The honor is presented by the French president, only once every four years.
The idea for the doc came from the producer, Flora Lazar, a French Pastry School of Chicago graduate. She owns Flora Confections, which makes and sells artisan chocolates, jellied fruits and pastries out of numerous green markets.
Lazar quit her high profile PR job to realize her own lifelong dream of becoming a pastry chef.
This would be the first time in history that anyone, let alone Americans, would ever photograph the exhausting and highly secretive competition.
“If you witness it with a camera, it’s a real story, not a story retold, it’s like watching a volcano go off,” said Pennebaker, an Evanston native.
The filmmakers were sold on the idea when its bones matched their storytelling criteria: “If you find someone going around a corner in their life and you feel they can handle it, there’s a story there,” said Pennebaker who directed with his wife, Chris Hegedus.
The master documentarians were allowed to film in part because of their filmmaking style. Pennebaker pioneered the raw and intimate “direct cinema” style of filmmaking, which meant they would be unobtrusive to the competition.
The “crew,” field producer Lazar and three cinematographers ? Hegedus, Pennebaker and Emmy Award winning Nick Doob — were confined to the short end of a table, one person per room.
“Even a radio mike was forbidden as it could change the temperature of the chocolate,” said Hegedus.
The documentary duo filmed on and off from July 2007 to February, 2008 for a budget of under $500,000.
Pennebaker Hegedus Films, based in New York, has been creating documentaries since 1979, including the Oscar nominated “The War Room,” “Don’t Look Back,” and “Startup.com.”
“Kings of Pastry” has been screened at multiple festivals including IDFA, Sheffield Doc/Fest, DOX BOX, Berlin International Film Festival and Hot Docs.
The film is distributed by First Run Features and has been distributed worldwide by the BBC, but has yet to secure American television distribution.
“Kings of Pastry” will be screened across the U.S. during the next few weeks and Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 3 and 4:45 p.m., $10.