Tuesday, November 23, 2021

A Conversation with Julia Filmmakers, Julie Cohen and Betsy West


Julia is a new film based on Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz and inspired by My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme and The French Chef in America: Julia Child’s Second Act by Alex Prud’homme. Julia Child died in 2004, and yet our appetite for all things Julia hasn't waned. 

I grew up watching Julia Child on TV and learning to cook the French classics from her books, And while I never trained to be a chef, like Child I also transitioned into a career focused on food, a subject I have always found endlessly fascinating. I enjoyed the new film very much and while it didn’t break much new ground, it did add a layer of perspective that can only come with time. In particular, how Julia Child became a ubiquitous pop culture figure is addressed in a fresh way. 


I reached out to the filmmakers,Julie Cohen and Betsy West to find out more about what inspired them and why Julia Child still holds our attention. 



Julia Child died over 15 years ago and has been off TV for decades. Why do you believe we continue to be so fascinated by her?

In some ways Julia is the Godmother of modern American cooking - and eating. Her spirit looms over cooking segments on the morning shows, The Food Network, and all those overhead Instagram shots the current generation loves to take of restaurant meals. Beyond that, though, Julia’s bigger than life personality and unstoppable joie de vivre are infectious. People couldn’t get enough of her while she was living, and they still can’t now. 

There have been so many Julia Child films and documentaries, what inspired this one? 

Well there’d been some great programs about Julia but this is the first feature length theatrical doc. Like everyone else, we adored Julie & Julia, but a documentary gives you a special opportunity to tell a person’s story in their own words and with the authentic images. This is particularly true of Julia, who was truly one of a kind. 

The impact of Julia Child how she was a groundbreaker really comes across in the film, are we understanding her in a different light as time passes? 

People understand that Julia was a talented television entertainer, but outside the professional food world, there’s been an under-recognition of just how much she changed the 20th century food landscape. As Jose Andres points out in the film, almost every serious food professional has a sauce-splashed copy of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” on their shelves. We also felt Julia’s role in opening up new possibilities for women on television deserved more exploration. In the early 1960’s the idea of a woman on TV who was neither a housewife nor a sex bomb but a mature, tall, confident expert was downright radical. She paved the way for many women who followed. 

The food shots add an extra element to the film and entice viewers in a very visceral way, how did those interstitials come to be part of the film? 

 We knew from the start that we wanted to make food a major part of this story, not an afterthought. We worked with cook and food stylist Susan Spungen to determine which authentic Julia recipes could be integrated with which story beats to become part of the film’s aesthetic and its plot. For instance the sole meunière is a key part of the story because it sparked her obsession with French food, and the pear and almond tart provides an enticing metaphor for the sensual side of Julia and Paul’s early married years. 

Note: Susan Spungen was also the food stylist for Julie & Julia

Julia is in theaters now.