1 Minute Meal – A little taste of life with James Boo

1 Minute Meal, a documentary web series created by filmmaker James Boo, is set to premiere its third season on July 24th, showcasing thirty different one-minute stories about food and life in the five boroughs of New York City.

James, a 2016 JustFilms Fellow, uses food to uncover the communities, legacies, dreams, realities, and unseen forces that shape life in New York City for people from a variety of different backgrounds and cultures.

(Watch the trailer of 1 Minute Meal Season 3 below!)

The filmmaker has described this season, the third and potentially final installment of his kaleidoscopic homage to food in New York, as an endeavor to make media more inclusive and dignified in its portrayal of minorities. Its subjects include a gay Syrian refugee who builds a new beginning by cooking the dishes of his youth, a fast food worker who turns to legislative activism in the struggle for a stable future, and two black female business owners who decide to open a gourmet coffee shop in their working-class Bronx neighborhood.

“This is not about checking restaurants off from eats lists,” James explains. “I’m trying to reshape what we’re used to seeing as the face of New York and the state of our American dream. I’d like to pull viewers away from the mindset of consumption for literally one minute, so they can approach New York’s cooks, workers, owners, and community leaders as human beings whose relationship with us is not simply a transaction.”

So why did a food writer decide to become a filmmaker?

After moving to New York in 2008 and spending the next five years reviewing restaurants and covering the local food culture, James felt like he had hit a wall – simply writing about food had lost its flavor (pun intended), and it was time for a change. During his tenure as a food reporter and critic, he met many diverse, inspirational people and began to feel invested in their stories – immigration struggles, ownership disputes, all of the minutia that complicates everyday life slowly began to take on greater meaning when viewed through the lens of food and cuisine.

So James put writing to the side and dedicated himself to documenting those personal stories that gave new depth to the food that he, and people all over New York City, enjoyed so much. “I had no experience producing documentary films at the time, but I knew there were compelling stories about food that I hadn’t been able to tell as a writer,” James explains, “so I made the leap.”

Sugar Shack, a documentary short about a maple farm in Quebec, was James’ first foray into documentary storytelling. James describes the experience of making that short as “life-changing,” and when he saw the emotional reaction that audiences had to the film, he knew that he had to continue on this new path. But with limited resources and a day job to maintain, there seemed to be more limitations than opportunities. Rather than reinvent the wheel, James devised a series of short, one-minute stories and pitched them to his editor – the pitch was quickly approved and filming began almost immediately, with James becoming a one-man film crew.

Before he knew it, James had the entire first season completed and out to the public. One common thread running through that first season was the diversity of his subjects, and while James hadn’t set out to underline that aspect of the food community, he’s glad it came through. That subconscious creative direction became a focal point in subsequent episodes and gave James a framework for what was to come.

Now entering its third season, 1 Minute Meal has broadened its reach into all five boroughs. Not only will these stories existing online, James is now entering the exhibition realm. A curated selection of episodes that will be screened alongside an exhibit on the history of Chinese food at the Museum of Food and Drink in Brooklyn. Opening night will see a preview of films from season three, special appearances by chefs who’ve appeared in the series, and a panel on the experiences of these independent entrepreneurs. The participation of these chefs was made possible by the NYC Awesome Foundation, which chose 1 Minute Meal as the recipient of its monthly grant in May.

With season three now completed, what’s next for James? “I’ll be back to work on a couple of feature documentaries that are not nearly as fast-moving,” he says with a smile. “Wealthy benefactors are encouraged to get in touch – I know a few good places we can meet for lunch.”

Season 3 of 1 Minute Meal premieres on July 24th but an advance screening will take place at the Made in NY Media Center on July 17th. Follow 1 Minute Meal on Instagram to see the livestream of that event.

Watch the trailer of Season 3 of 1 Minute Meal below:

1 Minute Meal: Season 3 Trailer from James Boo on Vimeo.