Ron Howard first heard about José Andrés‘ World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit that provides meals to areas affected by natural disasters, about seven years ago when both were speakers at a conference. The Oscar winner found the chef and humanitarian “inspiring, entertaining,” but it wasn’t until Howard was working on another documentary that the idea to document Andrés and WCK for what would become Disney+’s “We Feed People” was born.
‘When I was doing the documentary ‘Rebuilding Paradise’ [about wildfires in Paradise, Calif.], José shows up in it. I wasn’t there when we covered him, but he was there as part of the relief effort,” Howard tells Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: Documentary panel (watch the exclusive video interview above). “Louisa Velis, who’s one of the executive producers of both ‘Rebuilding Paradise’ and ‘We Feed People,’ she and I were looking at the cut and she said, ‘José Andrés, he’s amazing. He’s become a story. Maybe that’s another film. I think he’s going to win the Nobel some day. It’s just amazing what he’s doing.'”
Getting Andrés on board wasn’t a piece of cake though. The restaurateur was “a little reluctant at first” because he did not want a biographical film about himself. “I was really interested in World Central Kitchen and volunteerism and how they work as a team, how he led the team. And eventually he agreed to let us go in on them,” Howard shares. “I learned much, much more as we get into the project.”
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For one, the WCK team had been documenting its efforts from the very beginning — when Andrés headed to Haiti in 2010 after the catastrophic earthquake with a handful of people and his own credit card. WCK has since morphed into a well-oiled machines, having done activation sites such places as Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Guatemala and the Bahamas. This year, Andrés and his crew have been to Ukraine. Howard knew the story of WCK was inspiring — its goal is not only to drop off food and leave but to provide resources so the food system continues after WCK departs — but wasn’t quite sure what the narrative was until two years ago. “COVID struck and their new challenge had to do with scale. How do we settle in and help a community survive long term? How do we matter not because we delivered 1,000 meals over a short period of time where people really needed it? How do we do millions of meals? How many people can we activate? And how much can we grow this?” the director recalls.
The narrative from that point on “was fairly clear” to Howard as he and editor Andrew Morreale began looking at archival footage of WCK of its early activations. “Going back to Haiti and Puerto Rico, which was a key turning point, the Bahamas, we found within this 1,000 hours of footage that WCK actually had building blocks that became an origin story,” Howard continues. “So it became a little less kind of granular look at how they function and a little more of, ‘Here’s a journey in a fairly short period of time, led by this very charismatic guy who became kind of magnet for a lot of other incredibly dynamic people and committed people.’ And how did that work? And it became a different story to us. And we began reshaping it. It was really interesting to see it shift. We got excited when we began to understand that. What we were covering was really sort of Act 3.”
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