Dish, which was an official selection of the 2010 Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto, is a produced by Red Queen Productions, which is Toronto-based and founded by the filmmaker herself (Gallus) and her co-producer, Justine Pimlott. Both women have quite a bit of experience in the business — Gallus made her first film in 1991 and has been in the industry since.
The film is made in classic documentary style — it follows women from different parts of the world in different types of waitressing jobs: truck stop waitresses, a diner owner, waitresses in Montreal’s “sexy restos,” nude waitresses, a female maitre d’hotel, and waitresses in Japanese “maid cafes.” The film does much of its work through interviews. Gallus is not present throughout the film, and its only voice is that of the women it interviews (and one man).
As I scoured the internet for reviews of the film, I found this quote from one blogger: “While the doc shows us the very different styles of serving, one common theme is apparent throughout the film. This job is not easy and it takes a special kind of person to pull it off. Patience, understanding, the ability to please and the stamina to work the long hours for a pay that isn’t exactly promised to you is a challenge I would never want to take on. I never assumed that the art of serving was an easy one but the film did show me that it’s still harder than I had imagined.” This is something of a misreading of the film — in fact, the film is working towards painting a picture of the gender discrepancies involved in the service industry. It’s not just about the “art of service” — it’s about the art of service as experienced by a woman. The film subtly juxtaposes each woman’s experience to create a wide-reaching portrait of the service industry and the people involved in it, while also inserting a quiet feminist critique of the gender dynamics that are often implicit in the work of waitressing.
Dish would work well to jump start class discussion in several ways. The film raises the question of the specific film tools the director uses to get her message across to the viewer. It also is a good film to use to examine the practice of documentary-making more widely: how do people change when they get in front of the camera? What was left out of this story? Was it intentional? What is the value of interview footage? How “true” is the story that the film tells?
Daisy Schmitt 2011.