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Portland Filmmakers Take Aim at Portland Food Culture

Food Cart, an upcoming short film from Damian Magista and Lucas Longacre, will lampoon all of Portland—from critics and the media to what we think we’re actually eating

Promotional still from the movie Food Cart, starring Amir Kamali


Damian Magista (Bee Local Honey’s former hive master) and filmmaker Lucas Longacre are sitting on a covered patio on a sunny day sipping beers and talking about their upcoming movie, Food Cart, which they’ll be shooting over the course of the next month.

Without spoiling it, Food Cart is a darkly comic thriller—with a pinch of murder—set in Portland that meditates on what it’s like to find oneself crowned as the next media darling in a town that takes its food, its restaurants, and its chefs pretty seriously.

It’s also a meditation on the immigrant work experience, as well as the capitalist society that stages that experience. The lead character is an Iranian immigrant working long days in order to save up enough money to bring his father to the United States.

Magista said the idea came to him a few years ago, but he didn’t approach Longacre till last year. When he did, Longacre and Magista brainstormed for an afternoon fueled by pizza and beer. Longacre promised him a script within a week. Turns out, he only needed a day.

“Wrapping [the film] around the Portland food scene seemed natural,” Magista says. “The scene here can be overly precious and somewhat ridiculous. Let’s stop taking ourselves so seriously and have fun with it. The chef as rock star thing is, honestly, a complete fabrication by PR and marketing goofs. I want to shine a light on the silliness. Food Cart does that. Keep in mind, I have a deep respect for my chef friends, but I also wanted to honor a dear departed friend Joshua Ozersky, who I think would have gotten a kick out of the movie.”

“I also enjoyed poking fun at the self-seriousness of the food world,” Longacre echoes. “I adore the food scene in Portland—it's one of the reasons I moved here—and I hope the film is received as a lampoon and not an attack. The people we are satirizing are my friends and I really wanted them in on the joke. The only way we improve is by taking a serious, unabashed look in the mirror, and that was our intention with making this film. Well, first to entertain. Then to hopefully educate, just a little.”

“Having spent so much time with chefs and in their kitchens, I know that immigrants make up the bulk of the staff,” Magista wrote in an email he used as a casting call for local actors. “Cooking and restaurants are traditionally a way for immigrants to make money. I also didn’t want to cast a white dude in the lead role. There is enough of that.”

That’s why they decided to make the film’s hero an immigrant. He’ll be played by local actor Amir Kamali. At first, Kamali said he as slightly concerned with some of the script, which includes a couple of racial slurs directed at people of color by white racists.

“After talking to them for a bit, I quickly realized these guys just wanted to tell a story that could connect with immigrants, but with a dark, humorous twist,” Kamali says. “One of my main concerns with the character was an accent. I was hoping he wouldn't have a ‘middle eastern accent,’ because that would be too stereotypical. I liked the fact that Damian and Lucas agreed that he should have a normal, American accent, because he has lived here his whole life. No matter if the character were Black, Asian, Middle-Eastern, Indian, White, etcetera—he's an American. He moved to America in hopes of a better life, and he is doing everything in his power to make it happen.”

Samson Syharath echoes his cast-mate’s sentiments.

“It was really interesting reading the script and working on it with Lucas and Damian. [A character called Rick] is so blatantly racist, and it was really jarring at first,” Syharath says. “But the truth is it’s a reflection of how people really are in the present world. I think the story itself is an interesting perspective of how someone who may be seen as foreign is still just trying to live the American Dream. We may all look different and speak different languages and eat different foods, but we are all Americans and we are all searching for the best that we can be. I think that is what the story is for me. I know Lucas has been working with Amir and other people of color to make the story more of their perspective. We've changed a few details in the script to make them more personable. It's a very collaborative process which I am grateful for.”

But Portland food culture, racism and xenophobia aren’t the only targets. Another one is capitalism, itself.

Longacre, who considers himself a cautious capitalist, says, “The American dream is a beautiful fantasy that is desperately in need of an update. Randomness and luck have so much to do with success, and I wanted that theme to be a central part of the story along with the moral tradeoffs we all make to get ahead in our society.”

“Beyond the food scene, Food Cart tackles deep issues,” Magista adds. “How do we connect with others? What makes us humans? Are we willing to take seemingly unsavory steps to reach our goals? In short the film is really about humanity and people. All the rest is window dressing.”

Food Cart will star Kamali, Samson, and locals actors Sasha Dadvar, Chris Murray, Dave Jansen, and man about town Byron Beck. Expect cameos from some of those “rock star” chefs, too. Once it’s completed, Food Cart should run about 30 minutes and premiere sometime in September.

Stay Tuned.

Food Cart [Facebook Page]