Filmmaker Joanna James began working on “A Fine Line” — a film about mother Valerie James’s journey as a restaurant chef and owner — three years ago, when she was pregnant with her first child. “Initially, it was just going to be a story on my mother, but then I was shocked — being born into the restaurant industry — to not know that less than 7 percent of chef-restaurant owners are women. I just saw my mother doing it so well, and just loving it, that I just never would have thought that,” says James.
The filmmaker says her mother’s experience owning and operating Val’s Restaurant & Lounge in Holden serves as a personal story to open up a national discussion on gender equality in the workplace. “Obviously the restaurant industry isn’t the only industry that has really low numbers [of women in leadership positions], so we use that as an example across the board to really talk about a lot of things, like equal pay for equal work, and paid parental leave, things of that nature,” says James.
While making the film, James says, she interviewed restaurateurs who had many misconceptions about women in the industry. “For instance, when a woman is doing well on the job but then decides she is going to have a child or start a family, she is no longer someone that they can rely on, someone who will excel in their field. Some restaurateurs are hesitant to even hire women at a later stage of life. And so this keeps sort of perpetuating. I think it’s something we’ve all been talking about for the past however many years, but it’s just come to the forefront recently with a lot of women of today’s generation trying to figure out how they can do this.”
James sees a distinction in how different generations of women in the restaurant world view themselves and their careers. “I think the mere fact that we have choices is progress. Twenty years ago, which wasn’t that long ago, the options weren’t necessarily available. . . . So as much as this generation sometimes likes to say, ‘Well, I don’t look at myself as a woman chef. I’m a chef,’ other chefs we interviewed said, ‘Yeah, I take ownership of the fact that I’m a woman chef. I love that.’ ”
On April 3, James’s production company, Aliana Productions, is hosting “Farm to Fork to Film,” an event at Boston Public Market. There will be a screening of “A Fine Line” and a Q&A with local chefs including Barbara Lynch, Jody Adams, and Tiffani Faison. The event includes food and drink, with proceeds going toward the completion of the film and its campaign for workplace equality and paid parental leave.
“I think we do have to acknowledge what the women before us went through and what they were up against, and that we are standing on their shoulders. We need to talk about these things and lobby for changes that are reasonable and logical but will make a world of difference.” All of these things help women succeed, says James. “But I think we still have a ways to go.” Tickets are $110. Go to www.eventbrite.com/e/farm-to-fork-to-film-meet-your-favorite-celebrity-chefs-filmmakers-tickets-32351134113
Catherine Smart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.