The Art and Politics of Eating – Proposal for an Exhibition on and with Food

The Art and Politics of Eating – Proposal for an Exhibition on and with Food

Since 2008, I’ve been directing a series of documentaries on the relationship between food, wine, agriculture and sustainability in Spain which have screened internationally, followed by wine tastings and talks about the complex matter of food production.

The films are now to be combined with photographs by Albertina Torres and my  paintings on similar themes, along with wine and food tastings in a scalable art project called The Art and Politics of Eating, bringing a greater focus on the questions of sustainability of our food and ecosystems while looking at the nature of art and art forms and their relationship to our lives.

In collaboration with local chefs, caterers and Spanish restaurants, tapas and sit down meals would consumed surrounded by art, photography and video installations that gives the experience a cultural and geographical context – the faces, hands, toil and plants and animals that enable us to eat. Traditionally, it has always been that way when people produced their own food, and only in modern urban life have the two – food and agriculture – been separated. The Art and Politics of Eating is an experience in bringing the two back together. It may be somewhat disconcerting to some, but it is a thought provoking experience and glimpse into a reality to which urban living makes us oblivious. It also examines the relationship between painting, photography, video and food as media, as culture and as art forms.

Please download the proposal for a more complete description – The Art and Politics of Eating Proposal

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Arribes: This Is Also The Future


(This is the English translation of El futuro también es esto by Estefanía Vasconcellos in the Spanish national newspaper El Mundo.)

How exotic to see a pig being cut open with its intestines still hot and steamy. The smell cannot penetrate the screen, but anyone who has witnessed a pig slaughter knows how thick and warm it is, blending in with the stench of scorched skin. How awful to see a knife stuck in the pig’s throat, bleeding into a bucket to be used for blood sausages, and then its innards being pulled out.

But it need not be looked at in that way. Unless you are a vegetarian, you eat meat, although perhaps unaware of what happens to an animal from the moment they are born until you see them as sliced meat in the supermarket. One day they are grazing in the pasture and the next day, zap! A Canadian portrays people still in control of the production of their own food from start to finish in villages in northwest Spain. Pigs and chickens do not die by themselves. “Sometimes it repels me, but I kill it anyway”, says a women with rosy cheeks. Continue reading

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Arribes: el resto es barullo

Arribes: Everything Else is Noise / Arribes: el resto es barullo from Zev Robinson on Vimeo.

(English version here –

Siempre he vivido en grandes ciudades, donde compraba en tiendas o supermercados la comida o cualquier otro producto. Aparte de si era ecológica o no, si llevaba demasiados aditivos, sal o azúcar, nunca le presté demasiada atención, como la mayoría de los urbanitas, ajenos a la experiencia de cómo y de dónde proviene la comida. En España, el padre de mi mujer todavía trabaja sus viñedos a pesar de una artritis producida por muchos años de duro esfuerzo en el campo, un campo ingrato donde el granizo o una helada temprana pueden hacer peligrar la cosecha a punto de recoger. Recuerdo comprar una botella de vino en Londres y pararme a pensar que nadie sabía qué hay detrás de esa botella y lo que cuesta elaborar ese vino.

Después de instalarme a vivir en un pequeño municipio en la España rural hace siete años, mi experiencia seguía siendo prácticamente la misma: compraba mi comida en el mercado, en la tienda o en el supermercado. Mi suegro nos da verduras frescas de su huerta, le echo una mano durante la recolección de uvas, pero no me siento más involucrado en la producción de la comida. En el pueblo, la gente, sobre todo los más mayores, todavía tienen sus parcelas de huerta, algunos tienen gallinas, el pastor mata algún cordero para su consumo, pero la gran mayoría tiene que comprar su comida. Los jóvenes se han ido a la ciudad, en busca de una vida más cómoda y trabajos mejor remunerados y más respetados. Más respetados por un sentido invertido de los valores de la sociedad urbana, separada de la importancia vital que supone la comida y la agricultura sin los cuales no podríamos sobrevivir, y menos aún llevar una vida sana. Continue reading

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Arribes: Everything else is noise

Just a quick update on my upcoming Arribes documentary. I’m working hard on editing it and the plan is for it to be ready for for a screening in London in November, and maybe even in NYC at the end of October. It will focus on the relationship between agriculture, food, sustainability and traditions in the isolated region in NW Spain. People produce 50-99% of their own food, but it isn’t an easy, idyllic life either, and I want to show the issues in all their complexity.

Here are some stills from the annual killing of one or more pigs that families do in December. Virtually everything is used, producing sausages and jamon, and it feeds people throughout the year. An older trailer using material from the first two trips to Arribes, before I decided on the film’s focus and returned four more times, can be seen below. A new trailer should be out by early September.


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Painting and Documentaries

Working on my documentaries left me with little time to paint for a few years, but the Dinastia Vivanco Wine Museum (Museo de la Cultura del Vino) offered me an exhibtion opening on March 22, running until June 17, and I’ve been working hard on that for over a year. It will be made up of about 15 paintings, works on paper and digital prints of amphora, vases and other vessels, some of which can be seen here –

The Vivanco family history is subject of my 2011 film , and the exhibition will include a video art piece using the same material from my documentary, but re-edited with a more impressionistic, looser narrative and relying much more on the imagery, sounds and music. (The film itself will be screened at the Cervantes Institute in New York on May 18.)

Some 25,000 people are expected to visit while the exhibition is on, something quite exciting in itself.

Edward Lucie-Smith kindly wrote the text, Spanish translation in the invite below:


Zev Robinson, a Canadian/British painter, photographer and filmmaker, is multi-talented. He has a great affinity for the world of wine. In recent years he has traveled many thousands of kilometers, visiting the different Spanish wine regions, also the Duero region in Portugal. There can now be few English speakers who know this part of the world, with it complex culture and customs, better than he does. Continue reading

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Life on the Douro in California and Toronto

Life on the Douro screenings in Los Angeles, San Francisco and at the Toronto Portuguese Film Festival and Paso Robles Film Festival

Life on the Douro will be screening in LA and San Francisco on November 15 and 17, repsectively, followed by a tasting of some of the best Port and still wines produced in the region. Doors open at 6 PM, the film will start at 6:30, presented by director Zev Robinson, followed by a Q&A, and a wine tasting presented by Oscar Quevedo, marketing director for the Quevedo winery, and Roy Hersh of, one of the world’s leading experts of Port and Douro wines. Luiz Alberto of who was part of the 10 day For the Love of Port trip tailor made for my activities, will give invaluable behind-the-scenes support and insights.

There will be some very fine Port and Douro wines from Graham’s, Dow’s, Niepoort, Crasto, Taylor Fladgate, Quevedo, Mourao, and possibly Sandeman, Ferreira and Portal.

The venues are:

Chaplin Theater and Raleigh Cafe,
Raleigh Studios
5300 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles CA 90038
Tickets are $32.00 and can be purchased here –

Delancey Street San Francisco
Screening Room and Private Club
600 Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94107
Tickets are $32.00 and can be purchased here -

Just before that, on Saturday, November 12, Life on the Douro will be showing at the Toronto International Portuguese Film Festival
and the following Saturday, November 19, at Paso Robles Film Festival (exact time TBA) -

I’ll be attending the Paso Robles Film Festival with Roy Hersh, but unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it to Toronto.

Looking ahead, there will be events in Cologne on December 4, in Fontainebleau on December 7, and more are being arranged. There will be more North American and European events in the spring as well.

Directing this film has been one of the great experiences of my life, the Douro is one of the wonders of the world that should be seen at least once in a lifetime, and Portugal is a country that deserves to be much better known.

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The Faces of Life on the Douro

There were about 27 interviews included in Life on the Douro, if you include a couple of tour guides. Some other people played an important role, even though they didn’t speak or their interview wasn’t included for one reason or another. Here are the interviewees, and a couple of other people as well.


Antònio Agrellos, Quinta do Noval and Quinta da Romaneira



José Alberto Allen and Tomás Allen, Quinta de Villar d’Allen



Bento Amaral, Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto, I.P.



Ruth and Sandy Becker


Miguel Braga, Quinta do Mourão



Pedro Branco, Quinta do Portal


Adrian Bridge, The Fladgate Partnership


Natasha Bridge, The Fladgate Partnership


Paulo Coutinho, Quinta do Portal



Mario  Ferreira, For The Love of Port, and Luiz Alberto, The Wine Hub



Salvador Guedes, Sogrape Vinhos, S.A.



David Guimaraens, The Fladgate Partnership



Roy Hersh, For the Love of Port, with Ruth Becker



Beatriz Machado, The Yeatman with Roy Hersh and Adrian Bridge


Lígia Marques, The House of Sandeman



Sebastião Mesquita, Quinta das Aranhas



Dirk Niepoort, Niepoort Wines



Francisco Olazabal and Xito Olazabal. Quinta do Vale Meão, with Roy Hersh and Luiz Alberto



Luciano Vilhena Pereira, Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto, I.P.



Joana Pinhão, Quinta do Vale Dona Maria


André Marinho Pinto, Quinta do Judeu



Claudia Quevedo, Quevedo Port Wine


Oscar Quevedo, Quevedo Port Wine


Oscar Quevedo, son, Quevedo Port Wine


Pedro Silva Reis, Real Companhia Velha


Alistair Robertson, The Fladgate Partnership


Tomás Roquette, Quinta Do Crasto


George Sandeman, The House of Sandeman


Charles Symingon and Henry J. Shotton, Symington Family Estates


Dominic Symington, Symington Family Estates


Paul Symingon, Symington Family Estates


Rupert Symingon, Symington Family Estates


Cristiano Van Zeller, Quinta do Vale Dona Maria


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Life on the Douro – Done

Done! I came back home three weeks ago with plenty of new material, great interviews with Fladgate Partnership chairman Alistair Robertson, Paul Symington and Dirk Niepoort, and edited non-stop to get the finished film out to the Douro Film Harvest. The film’s narrative structure was already in place, but with some gaps, and I needed Alistair Roberston to give me a quick run-down on The Fladgate Partnership history, and Dirk Niepoort to give me an overview of the Douro Boys, an association of five producers, and their marketing effort. Instead, Alistair gave me about an hour and a half of material and Dirk’s interview was an hour long. Dirk was also the last of some 27 participants lending their viewpoints to Life on the Douro, fittingly, as he ends the film.

I had met Gustavo Devesas, who works for Symington’s, at Oscar Quevedo’s wedding, and he told me that an interview with Paul Symington was a must, that he would tell me some great stories. I hesitated as I already had far more material than could reasonably fit into the documentary, but decided that I shouldn’t miss the opportunity, and came away with an hour’s worth of stories and insights. As with so many of the interviews, it could almost serve as the basis for a film in itself.

Natasha Bridge, wine blender at Fladgate, gave an overview of the different styles of Port, and Antonio Agrellos, wine maker at Quinta do Noval, talked about their recent efforts to complement the winery’s previous three centuries as told by Cristiano Van Zeller and Jose Allen (see my previous post for that story).

I didn’t even have time to go through all the new material, just went straight to those parts I needed the most, basically Alistair on his company’s history, Dirk on the Douro Boys, how they function and what is needed to promote the region, and Paul about his childhood adventures in what was once a much wilder Douro valley.

I worked for 18 long days straight, got it out just in time for the deadline, and now the film will have its premiere at the Douro Film Harvest festival on September 6, and I’m thinking about what to do with all the extra material that I have. I could do a series of extras and/or an extended version and/or a video installation. When I go back for the screening, it’s tempting to film a few more things that I missed. There’s always a few more things to capture, especially in the Douro, so the film’s finished, but the story isn’t.


Alistair Robertson


Paul Symington


Natasha Bridge


Dirk Niepoort

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Life on the Douro, Trip no. 5, Day 5 The Noval Connection

I spent all day at the iconic Quinta do Noval on Thursday, July 21. I first heard about its history a year ago when I interviewed Jose Alberto Allen, whose family owned it in the 19th century, and then learned more about its history from Cristiano Van Zeller, whose family bought it from the Allen family in 1894, later producing what is considered to be one of the great wines of the 20th century in 1931, until it was sold  in 1993 to Axa, a multi-national insurance company. Christian Seely, the managing director was away, but their winemaker, Antonio Agrellos, showed me around and talked about Noval’s wine making in the 20th century and innovations over the last two decades.

Visiting Noval was one of the missing pieces that I needed for Life on the Douro, not only to show the estate that Jose Alberto and Cristiano talked about, not only because of its importance as a winery, but because all things in the Douro are interconnected. The Allen’s are related to Francisco Olazabal, ex-president of the Ferreira and direct descendant of Dona Antonia Ferreira, who also talked a bit about the Allen history. The Van Zeller family is related to the Symington’s, as are the Allen’s. I originally interviewed Dominic Symington at their estate Quinta do Vesuvio, which was bought from Ferreira. The Ferreira family asked Cristiano to help set up the Quinta do Vallado after the Ferreira company was sold to Sogrape, and Valllado began to operate under its own name, run by Francisco Olazabel and two cousins, all descendants of Antonia Ferreira. And on and on the story goes.

I have the basic structure of the film set up, and thought fine tuning it would be easier going. But now I’m painfully debating what to include and what to cut out, how long it should be, and a million other decisions as well, trying to balance the sense of history, the complicated issues, the visual richness of the Porto, Gaia and the Douro Valley, and the need for a well-structured, strong narrative. There is no way to include all the facts, better suited for a historical treatise, and I have to constantly remind myself that that is not my task, but rather it is to arrive at its essence. Right now, I’m not sure how I’m going to get there, but I always seem to get there in the end.


António Agrellos, wine maker at Noval


A 19th century Noval bottle at Villar d’Allen

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Life on the Douro, Trip no. 5, Days 3-4 – Storytelling and Photography

On Monday, I traveled from Porto to the Douro Valley, and stayed at the Fladgate Partnership’s Vargelas estate, warmly hosted by Alistair and Gillyane Robertson. I interviewed Alistair to get the history of the company going back to 1692, one of the missing pieces I need to finish the film. I just needed a brief overview, but ended up with over an hour’s worth of material. More great stories, and more anxiety how I’m going to fit it all in.

I went on to Tua on Tuesday to film the old, disused trains in the station that once moved people and goods through the Douro Valley, probably before there was electricity in the area only a few decades ago, and that now rust away as silent and overlooked witnesses to another era. My shots were mostly still and lacking in movement, occasionally some people in the distance would walk through the frame, or the leaves of the trees would move with the breeze.

At times like that, when the shooting goes well, I feel like I’m a photographer who just happens to be using a video camera, and that my films should also be silent witnesses, telling all through images. Great photographs are that, capturing a whole world in an instant, and what need is there for words when an image can say it all?

But then I think about Alistair and the many others I’ve interviewed for Life on the Douro, thinking about the incredible stories I’ve heard, often told with love, passion, and humour, and how fortunate I have been to have had that experience, and that those stories should be more widely known, and again I wonder how I’m going to fit it all in.

(You can support the documentary – and spread the word about the Douro and Portugal – by pre-ordering a DVD –


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