Controlled chaos. That’s what it feels like on the streets of Santa Cruz this warm and inviting Friday evening in mid-October. I am sitting on the sidewalk table outside of India Joze restaurant on Front Street with a covey of old-time locals taking in the scene. You can feel the energy building, the Indian-summer light turning into a golden glow before darkness settles (what the Spanish call el anochecer), the chaotic social dissonance around us slowly but surely coalescing into a critical mass.
My friend and fellow writing love bug Wallace Baine is among the crew, as is Jon Silver, another longtime pal and filmmaking partner who has just finished a fascinating and informative feature-length documentary, Foodie for the People, on India Joze and its kinetic and talented impresario Jozseph “Joe” Schultz, a fixture in the local culinary scene for 50 years.
Silver’s film, hot out of the kitchen, will get its World Premiere next Wednesday evening at the Del Mar Theater (show time is 6pm), with a follow-up screening on Wednesday, Nov. 3 at the Del Mar at 6pm.
In homage to Schultz’s extensive volunteer work of feeding those experiencing homelessness, Silver has made it so that both screenings will be free (with proof of vaccination required for admission). Advance tickets to both screenings are available at eventbrite.com (search for “foodieforthepeople”), while a handful of seats will be held back and issued the night of the show. They promise to be sold-out affairs.
Out on the sidewalk, the conversation focuses loosely on the film and food. Two of Schultz’s longtime colleagues—Sasha Childs, the restaurant’s artistic director (and Schultz’s current “life partner”) and Lynne Basehore Cooper, with whom Schultz made a two-year trip around the world in the mid-1980s—are hustling back and forth from the lobby, taking orders, delivering dishes and engaging customers as they go.
Cooper stops momentarily and reminds me of a connection we had with a common friend in the late 1980s, just after she returned to Santa Cruz from her global sojourn with Schultz. We joke about the various social complexities at the time. “We were young,” she says with a smile. She references her work with the Homeless Garden Project and her belief that those without resources and shelter deserve the opportunity to grow their own food.
Food, politics, culture and shared history are central themes at Joze.
Finally, Schultz himself comes out, delivering Silver one of his signature dishes—Basa Djawa, which he learned at the Royal Palace in Indonesia—and I get the opportunity to tell the celebrated chef how great he comes off in the film, and to thank him for his magnificent body of work and his commitment to community over the past five decades. I have been eating at Schultz’s various eateries since high school, when I worked as a delivery boy on Soquel Avenue and his first establishment was a few blocks up the street, where the Crepe Place is today.
Dressed in his trademark dark hat and rough-hewn leather apron, with the tools of his trade at his side, Schultz expresses gratitude for my comments about his performance—or more accurately, his presence—in the film. But he is genuinely humble about the role he has played at the restaurant, and tries to deflect the spotlight somewhere else.
“I really shouldn’t be the focus,” he says. “That’s a little hard. So many people have been part of the process. So many people have played a role. It’s really a collective effort.” He points to Childs and Cooper, and then mentions the inimitable artist and graphic designer extraordinaire Beth Regardz, who Childs calls “the mother goddess co-founder” of the restaurant.
Schultz is not only the subject, but also the soul of Silver’s documentary, which touches upon the history of the fabled restaurant (which once contained 250 seats), from the International Calamari Festival to the Chickpea and Mushroom festivals that shaped and defined Santa Cruz culture during the 1980s and ’90s.
And while Schultz is clearly the star of Foodie for the People, the nomination for best actor in a supporting role in the film goes to Good Times’ own Christina Waters, a veteran food writer and truly a pioneer in chronicling the culinary scene in Santa Cruz (and, really, the West Coast) since the 1980s. Her commanding presence provides a critical meta-commentary to the film and places Schultz’s art and career in a broader context than simply the familiar sidewalks and streets of Santa Cruz.
“What’s special about Jozseph’s food is that you sense the living presence of the man in every single dish,” Waters elucidates. “The flavors are unbelievable—you have no idea what you’re eating and how it got that way.”
Waters, who has written about Schultz for a variety of publications over the years, succinctly sizes up her subject. “He believes in the people,” she declares, “and there are no pretensions about him. He would far rather cook in the dirt over a campfire than sit at a white tablecloth restaurant.”
It’s both a keen and illuminating observation that provides the basic cartography to Schultz’s career and a narrative arc to the film.
When I asked documentarian Silver one morning several weeks ago why he decided to make a film about Schultz and his culinary career in Santa Cruz, the answer spun on for literally two hours over coffee and pastries.
I should at this point, I suppose, issue an official disclaimer: Silver and I have been friends and colleagues and occasionally activists together for the better part of 40 years, and we have had a running conversation going on a variety of subjects—most often film and politics (and the San Francisco Warriors)—for the duration. We have also worked together—at UCSC, on each other’s films, and in various community venues—so that in terms of film production, cinematic construction, and visual aesthetics, we speak the same filmic vernacular. I am also a fan of his work.
Born in the Bronx, raised in Harlem and Queens and coming of age during the era of the Clifford Glover riots in South Jamaica (NY), Silver has forged an impressive documentary film career since he moved out west to complete his education, first in Sonoma County and then at UCSC in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
He’s made literally scores of documentaries since —the majority focusing on class conflict, environmental destruction and educational issues—several of which have received national recognition. His feature-length film, Watsonville On Strike, which chronicled the 18-month walkout by mostly Latinx cannery workers in South County during the mid-1980s, won a Silver Hugo award at the Chicago International Film Festival and was also featured at the New York Documentary Film Festival. His celebrated short Dirty Business, which revealed the horrific environmental and workplace impacts of the maquiladora system along the border of Mexico, was named Best Documentary Short at the U.S. Environmental Film Festival.
In a certain sense, Foodie for the People would seem a departure from Silver’s highly charged collected oeuvre. But as he explains his reasoning behind the production, it becomes clear that the film is as rooted in his leftist political worldview as any of his others.
Silver, a longtime resident of Watsonville, moved back to Santa Cruz roughly a half dozen years ago to live with his current partner, Christine Sippl, a director of public health programs in the county, and the two gradually discovered the culinary creativity of Joze, eventually becoming regulars.
“It’s got the best food in town,” Silver opined, “and it’s affordable. Healthy. Plus we loved the feel of the place. It’s colorful. Interesting. There are rotating art shows. At some point, Sasha redid the design and aesthetics of the place. You have hundreds of people passing through to attend the Dance Church at the 418 Project [located behind the restaurant]. The dynamics were very engaging.”
He also loved the fact that the clientele was multi-generational, from “old hippies” and Baby Boomers to Millenials and even members of so-called Generation Z, all of whom, Silver observed, “love the place” and “sort of claim it as their own.” He heard stories about people who have been coming to Joze for years—who had birthday and wedding and graduation celebrations there over the decades. He realized that much of the history of Santa Cruz from 1970 on had been woven into the place. “I mean, it’s an institution,” he noted with emphasis.
Then there was Schultz himself. Silver gradually learned his story—how he started cooking while a student at UCSC, dropped out and traveled the world in search of culinary expressions, in the Mediterranean, Asia, the Middle East, all the while gathering recipes and insights in the people and cultures he engaged.
But what sealed the deal for Silver, still an ardent critic of mainstream American politics, was the way that Schultz and the restaurant were committed to social justice movements throughout the community. “Look, they’re not corporate, they’re not mainstream,” he observed. “And Joe just doesn’t say no to political causes. He gives so much of himself and of the restaurant to so many organizations, including those that address homelessness.”
The idea for a documentary slowly gathered momentum. “Three years ago,” Silver says, “I thought, holy crap, it would all make for an interesting film.” He shared his idea with Sippl, and she agreed with his cinematic instincts. At first he thought about making a five-minute short and putting it on YouTube. But the more he filmed, the more he realized the breadth and depth of the India Joze story. The film expanded to 15 minutes, then to 20. The first rough cut I saw was a half-hour. Covid shut down the operations for several months, but it also gave the production space to breathe and maturate into a feature length work.
Silver also deftly incorporated music from two Santa Cruz musical treasures: Eli Mabanza, from the Congo, who leads the band Mokili Wa; and Santa Cruz native Kaethe Hostetter, who heads up Qwanqwa. Their cumulative soundtrack is absolutely delightful.
One aspect of Silver’s filmmaking that I have always appreciated is his ability as a cinematographer to capture and honor what Marxist theorists call the labor process—human beings at work, using their minds and hands and bodies—from line workers in Watsonville’s canneries to strawberry pickers in the fields of the Pájaro Valley.
In Foodie for the People, Silver captures Schultz’s remarkable artistry in the kitchen with pots and pans and knives all moving like an ornate dance performance while flames flare up around him. It all makes for some compelling documentary cinema.
It also provides a telling contrast to current trends in documenting the “foodie movement” by mainstream media.
Like many in recent years, I’d come to appreciate the various culinary explorations by Anthony Bourdain of cuisines and food culture around the world. Bourdain was both irreverent and witty in his various writings and television series—most notably No Reservations (the Travel Channel) and Parts Unknown (CNN)—up until the time he tragically took his life in 2018.
I enjoyed a large body of his work, but I also felt that some of his profiles felt like hit-and-run filmmaking—at times shallow and staged and the narrative forced—and as I watched a late rough-cut of Foodie for the People I thought about the differences between the two models of culinary documentation.
Silver spent three years on his work; Bourdain and his production team would often spend only a few hours, then leave for their next destination.
In Bourdain’s best-selling book Kitchen Confidential, he made the following observation: “Cooking is a craft, I like to think, and a good cook is a craftsman—not an artist. There’s nothing wrong with that: the great cathedrals of Europe were built by craftsmen—though not designed by them.” This coming from a man who left the world of restaurants for that of celebrity TV. He was always on the run.
As I sat outside India Joze the other day, Grant Wilson, another longtime local activist, came by and reminded me of his quote in the film about Schultz being an artist, like the Jackson Pollock of our community.
Wilson is right, of course. Schultz is both a craftsman and an artist. He both builds and designs his magnificent cuisine. Sometimes, Bourdain’s cynicism simply got the best of him.
Silver is an artist, too. He has produced a delightfully executed homage to a culinary genius—and an iconic institution—in our community. Foodie for the People is a timely and impactful work of art.
The world premiere of ‘Foodie for the People’ will be presented on Wednesday, Oct. 27, at 6pm at the Del Mar Theatre, 1124 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz. Free/voluntary donation at the door. Reserve a ticket on eventbrite.com.