Lydia Tenaglia is co-founder and executive producer of Zero
Point Zero Production, Inc. (ZPZ), creators of the Emmy- and Peabody- Award winning
series, “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” and Emmy-nominated “The Hunt with John Walsh” on CNN, and the Emmy Award winning PBS series “The Mind of a Chef.” (Press materials)
W&H: Describe the
film for us in your own words.
LT: Jeremiah Tower, in almost Gump-like fashion, happened to
be at the epicenter — from the late 1960’s through the mid 1990s — of several
pivotal moments in the American Food Revolution. Many credit him for helping to
transform the landscape of not just American food, but its restaurants and
dining rooms as well. And yet his name has largely been obliterated from
history. “Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent” explores the life and work of
this complicated man.
W&H: What drew
you to this story?
LT: The idea for the film was brought to Zero Point Zero
Production by chef Anthony
Bourdain with whom we have worked for over 16 years on various television
and film projects. Bourdain had read Jeremiah Tower’s memoir, “California Dish,” and thought Tower would make an interesting subject for a documentary. Tower
was instrumental in revolutionizing the way Americans eat and dine from the mid
1970s to late 1990s.
Upon preliminary research I thought that the project, at
best, would be an interesting biopic of a successful restaurateur — one who
had left a great legacy on the American culinary landscape. What I found
instead was a rich and complex story of an artist — one who continuously
endeavored to reconcile his artistic dreams and visions with the “vulgar
reality of life.”
W&H: What do you
want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
LT: That Jeremiah Tower is indeed one of the most
controversial, outrageous and influential figures in the history of American
gastronomy — a driven perfectionist, egotist, seducer and ringmaster. He was a
man with great artistic vision, but also undeniable tragic flaws. He is a man
who left his mark.
W&H: What was the
biggest challenge in making the film?
LT: We were at the very end of our scheduled production and
only had one short shoot left to do in Mexico. I read in the
newspaper that Jeremiah Tower was hired as the executive chef at Tavern on The
Green and was already in New York City. He hadn’t told me that he had taken the
job or that he had moved to New York.
The entire production took a big unanticipated
turn at that point. We had to make the decision to shoot at Tavern on The Green, not knowing
what that story would be. We began what turned out to be another four months of
shooting, not knowing the outcome of that story. It was a calculated risk that
W&H: How did you
get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
LT: The film was funded by CNN, which commissioned the film
as part of its Documentary Originals program.
W&H: What’s the
best and worst advice you’ve received?
LT: The worst? At 24 years old, someone emphatically advised
me, “Just stick with that dead end job with the abusive boss, at least you’ll
have a steady income.” The best advice was from myself, who said, “F**k that
advice. I’m jumping into the abyss feet first!”
W&H: What advice
do you have for other female directors?
LT: Ignore the nagging inner voice that says, “You can’t do
this.” Look at your obstacles as the necessary fuel to accomplish the task at
W&H: Name your
favorite woman-directed film and why.
LT: Jane Campion’s work on “The Piano” in firmly ensconced
in my memory as one of the most beautifully stirring films about a woman I’ve
ever seen. The image of that black piano sinking into the sand was unbelievably