Toronto Film Festival
For their follow up to the Academy Award-nominated documentary “RBG,” about the pioneering Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West have profiled…
For their follow up to the Academy Award-nominated documentary “RBG,” about the pioneering Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West have profiled America’s “first food icon” in Julia Child.
Over the course of 95 minutes, Cohen and West detail Child’s journey from cooking school at Le Cordon Bleu through co-authoring “The Art of French Cooking” to becoming a pseudo-rockstar of the food world.
“Julia left a huge legacy of material that we could draw upon — video, diaries, letters, other things,” West said, explaining how the directing duo approached Child’s life for the doc in conversation at Variety’s TIFF Studio, presented by Canada Goose.
“I think that people have a superficial idea about Julia Child and we really did want to go deeper,” she continued. “We were able to do that with the help of that material and also talking to people who knew Julia — Julia’s relatives, Julia’s colleagues, her wonderful friends in Cambridge who were so acerbic and funny, and her friends in France. That in addition to all of the video that we had really helped to bring Julia alive.”
For the film, the directors also recreated the chef’s signature dishes for the cameras with mouth-watering cinematography, including her infamous Beef bourguignon. West has gotten pretty good at making the salade niçoise, while Cohen made the roasted potatoes on a whim.
“We really wanted to make the food as luscious and as delicious looking as possible,” West said. “It was important to us that you get an emotional feeling for the food.”
And the story digs into her private life, with a primary focus on her relationship with husband Paul, via letters and diary entries written about their nearly 50-year marriage.
“Julia’s life was documented quite nicely in the period after she became a mega star — which wasn’t until she was over 50,” Cohen explained. “But even before it, her husband, Paul — who among many other skills was an extraordinary photographer — took so many photos of her where the love just kind of pours through his side of the lens. That you could really feel the intimacy of their relationship through those images … which we used with the permission of Julia child’s family to help bring that part of the story to life.”
The movie also contextualized Child’s professional legacy with talking-head interviews with commentary from chefs, including her “Good Morning America” colleague Charlie Gibson. The movie mentions that Child was a fan of Dan Aykroyd’s famous parody of her on “Saturday Night Live,” but doesn’t make mention of Meryl Streep’s portrayal in 2009’s “Julie & Julia” (by which many audiences came to know more about her personal life).
“Julia” was filmed in 2019 with the duo traveling to Paris to capture the places and people who fostered Child’s gastronomic awakening. But the movie was edited during the pandemic lockdown, where the feeling of nostalgia associated Julia Child and her cooking became ever more apparent.
“It was really a joy, in the midst of a pretty difficult time, to be in Julia’s world and to experience that joie de vivre that she brought to everything,” West said.
And while the solitude was an unexpected and unfortunate symptom of the pandemic, Cohen added, being “siloed off to our home kitchens meant that people were more and more embracing what an important role home cooking and home eating can play in our lives.”
“It was like a soothe for us to be able to immerse ourselves in who Julia was as a person and her journey,” she continued. “But even the food, after a day of editing, you kind of wanted to jump into like a bubbling pot of Beef bourguignon, and just live there.”
In the meantime, Cohen and West also directed “My Name is Pauli Murray,” which profiles the non-binary Black lawyer, activist and poet who influenced both Ginsburg and Thurgood Marshall, which debuted at Sundance and is due out in October. And the pair have also begun work on a secretive new project.
“We’re actually in the midst of editing another film about an absolutely spectacularly, incredible woman — still living, who we’ve been filming for a bit more than a year — and we’re excited to bring that to the world,” West began.
Though they’re not ready to reveal their subject’s identity just yet, Cohen added that she’s “a fantastic woman whose story we think people will find equally fascinating” as those of Murray, Ginsburg, and Child.
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, “Julia” is set to be released on Nov. 5.