natasha dow schull  
Director's Notes

Thanksgiving weekend, Las Vegas: a camera journeys through Sin City's all-you can-eat buffets and finds a kaleidoscope of characters behind the food--from tireless chefs preparing gargantuan bowls of ambrosia, to servers who bus endless plates, to hungry diners in search of a culinary jackpot and a portion of the American dream.

"The buffet is the happiest and saddest place," says Pierre, a Haitian meat carver at the New Frontier's buffet. All You Can Eat Las Vegas brings the happiness and the sadness of the buffet to light, taking the audience on a wild gastronomic voyage behind the scenes of an all-American binge ritual. Buffet follows the food: from kitchen to cornucopia, table to mouth, waste bin to local farm where 6,000 eager pigs feast on buffet leftovers. All along the consumption chain, a diverse cast of characters share their desires, their weaknesses, their pleasures, and their shames. The camera rolls as the savory promise that greets diners turns to gluttony, then despondence--and sometimes, a flickering hope for something more than just "all you can eat."

At turns humorous and sobering, sumptuous and revolting, the half-hour documentary serves up food for thought by the heaping plateful. In a city where it's Thanksgiving every day, the simple act of eating a meal yields a bounty of fresh insights into America's feeding frenzy.



The idea for a documentary on all you can eat buffets came to me when I was living in Las Vegas, conducting anthropological research on gambling addiction.   Two French friends had come to visit, and I had taken them to brunch at Rio's “It's A Small World” buffet—a venue famous for its size and selection.  As we ate, I was struck by the tentative manner in which my European friends approached the buffet.  They seemed overwhelmed by the dizzying array of choices that greeted them and chose their food hesitantly and sparingly.  Back at our table, they felt compelled to finish all they had selected -- whether or not they liked it.

I found myself urging them to embrace the buffet experience — to push aside unfinished plates of food and head back for second and third servings, on fresh plates.  Their hesitancy gave way to giddy delight as they shed gastronomic inhibitions and piled their plates high again and again.  It seemed they were taking as much pleasure in the transgressive act of wasting food as they were in the act of consuming it.  Although the scene suggested a universal thrill to gluttonous indulgence, it indicated a uniquely American fluency in this area.  It occurred to me that a documentary film about all you can eat buffets could provide a window into dynamics of excess and waste in American culture. 

Hillevi Zazel Loven, my co-director and cameraperson, agreed.  On our first trip to film in Las Vegas, we met a meat carver who commented that the buffet was “the happiest and the saddest place.”  His comment guided the making of the film.  Our goal was to capture both the playful, carnivalesque, celebratory aspects of the buffet, and its darker, disturbing side.  Instead of casting the buffet as a site of middle-American gluttony -- as in SouthPark, The Simpsons, and countless popular movies -- we wanted to convey the joys, shames, and insights of actual buffet patrons.  We wanted our film to be serious without judging the buffet or its patrons, and at the same time, humorous without making fun of them.  

As American consumers, we have all known the pleasures and shames of excess - we have all tasted the buffet.  We hope our film will entertain and also sober, provoke humor and also reflection.  We offer it as “food for thought.” Bon appetit!



DIRECTOR, PRODUCER............................Natasha Dow Schull

CO-DIRECTOR, CAMERA........................Hillevi Zazel Loven

EDITORS.....................................................Till Osterland, Natasha Dow Schull, Matthew Bird

ADDITIONAL CAMERA............................Pawel Wojtasik, James Wright

WEBMASTER..............................................Ashish Sharma

Produced by BINGE producutions, in Association with OVO, Inc.