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FIN Stream: Bread in the Bones goes against the grain exploring love of loaves

Peter Schumann of Vermont's Bread and Puppet Theatre, works the oven in Bread in the Bones, a new documentary by Halifax filmmaker Darrell Varga. The film about this essential part of our diet premieres this week as part of the FIN Stream lineup of online festival programming, running to Sept. 24.
Peter Schumann of Vermont's Bread and Puppet Theatre, works the oven in Bread in the Bones, a new documentary by Halifax filmmaker Darrell Varga. The film about this essential part of our diet premieres this week as part of the FIN Stream lineup of online festival programming, running to Sept. 24. - Darrell Varga
HALIFAX, N.S. —

Most people don't think about millennia of social and cultural history when they bite into that morning piece of toast or unwrap a rolled-up pita stuffed with shawarma.

But as Halifax filmmaker Darrell Varga shows in his fascinating new documentary Bread in the Bones, our ties to that magical combination of water, flour and yeast — the three primary colours that open up a universe of taste and texture — are practically part of our DNA.

“When you start digging, it’s all over art and literature and everywhere else, but for most people, it’s something in the background,” says the director and NSCAD film instructor, who presents Bread in the Bones as part of this month’s FIN Stream programming, with upcoming appearances at the Lunenburg Doc Fest and Devour! Film and Food Festival.

“Often it’s something you can’t live without, but we don’t really think about it.”



Over the last seven years, Varga traveled the globe to find different perspectives on how engrained the making and consuming of bread is in the human psyche. He discusses its political implications (citing the French Revolution and “Let them eat cake!”) with Peter Schumann from rural Vermont’s Bread and Puppet Theatre, which literally presents bread and circuses for attendees.

He also visits Bulgaria’s Sofia Bread House, where Svetlana Todorova describes how refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and beyond have brought their own bread-making traditions while the diaspora continues to expand the human palate, as it has done for centuries.

“For me, I’ve always cooked, but not so much baking,” says the director about his own connection to his subject. “Bread was always kind of a mystery; this horizon that was way too far. At a certain point, I wanted to confront that.

“And certainly for me, bread has been therapeutic. ‘I’m just going to slow down, get my hands in the dough, and hope that something tasty comes out of it.’ Not always, but there’s knowing it’s alive and I have to live with this and not fight it ... figure out what it wants and get out of its way.”

As we’ve seen during the early days of the COVID-19 quarantine, when flour and yeast were suddenly in short supply, breadmaking can become something of an obsession. It’s a topic Varga understands well, and was featured in his 1994 film Hunters and Gatherers, about collectors of rare and unusual objects.


Bread in the Bones, a new documentary by Halifax filmmaker Darrell Varga, looks at our spiritual and cultural ties to the world's most basic food staple. The film premieres this week as part of the FIN Stream lineup of online festival programming, running to Sept. 24. - Darrell Varga
Bread in the Bones, a new documentary by Halifax filmmaker Darrell Varga, looks at our spiritual and cultural ties to the world's most basic food staple. The film premieres this week as part of the FIN Stream lineup of online festival programming, running to Sept. 24. - Darrell Varga

But it’s also a healthy obsession, one that feeds families, creates jobs, and inspires bakers to reach for new culinary heights as they play with that three-ingredient foundation by adding different grains, seeds, sugar, salt and more than a little bit of sweat.

Through his conversations with philosophical gourmets, Varga makes bread the central character of this ancient and ongoing story, growing and expanding with the world around it.

“This dough, this living thing that dies and becomes bread and then keeps us alive, is a story. But I didn’t want to tell the National Geographic-style history of its origins.

“That’s interesting too, but I definitely wanted to use it as a way into the big questions of love, life and loss, work and play, and bread.”

Where to watch:

To watch Bread in the Bones as part of FIN Stream programming, visit the FIN Atlantic International Film Festival website to buy tickets via the virtual box office and peruse the detailed online program guide.

Like most FIN Stream titles (apart from the gala presentations) Bread in the Bones is available to watch for the run of the festival, until Sept. 24, and once you press play you have 24 hours to view it.

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