For directors Anna Chai and Nari Kye, filmmaking and food go hand in hand.
In their first full-length documentary, “WASTED! The Story of Food Waste,” the pair examine how much food goes in the garbage and interview chefs who are coming up with solutions to reduce that amount, including Dan Barber, Mario Batali, Danny Bowien, and Massimo Bottura.
Chai said that while the subject is a serious topic to address, they still wanted to make the film, which is premiering April 22 at the Tribeca Film Festival and is executive produced by Anthony Bourdain, entertaining for everyone of all ages.
“Food waste isn’t fun, but everyone does eat whether you’re old or young,” Chai told NBC News. “Nari has a 3-year-old, and he’s already learning things about how not to waste food.”
“Because of the social justice angle our documentary was taking, it could’ve been a lot of doom and gloom,” Kye told NBC News. “Some documentaries help you understand a problem, but they don’t give you a lot of solutions from the get go. It was important for us to show that there are people out there who are doing things to reduce food waste and doing it well and ultimately.”
“Wasted” isn’t the first time the filmmakers are working with Bourdain.
Chai has previously directed episodes of the television series “The Mind of a Chef” — which Bourdain narrates — and “The Layover,” and Kye was a producer for both shows as well as “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” and “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.”
Both their careers in food and travel filmmaking began when they started working for the shows’ production company, Zero Point Zero, which also produced the documentary. Kye started at the company in 2004 after graduating from New York University’s film and television production program while Chai joined a few years later.
Chai, who studied documentary filmmaking at Harvard University, said she’s learned to love directing shows and films on food and travel since working with Zero Point Zero. Documentaries appealed to her because, she believes everyday people all had interesting stories, she said. And food, she noted, was a simple way to gain a bit of insight into someone else's background.
“Food is the easiest way into a culture,” Chai said. ”You may not know where a place is. For instance, even if you eat Indian food, you may not know that it is from a certain region or from a million miles way down south, and it sort of gives you a point of reference to understanding something that is new or potentially foreign.”
Kye, who made an appearance in an episode of “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” that took place in Korea, credits her and Chai’s Korean upbringings for their appreciation for all types of cuisine.
“For me, growing up — and I’m sure Anna’s family was the same way — we’ll be eating breakfast and it’s like ‘What’s for lunch?’ so we were constantly thinking about food,” Kye said. “Growing up Asian American, food is a huge part of your life.”
When Chai and Kye began developing the documentary, they wanted to reach as wide of an audience as possible, they said. A partnership between Zero Point Zero and The Rockefeller Foundation helped make that a reality.
“With Tony’s shows, they’re really popular among a whole gamut of people,” Kye said. “There are different demographics, but for this film, I know for Zero Point Zero and The Rockefeller Foundation, we wanted to reach as many of people as possible since it’s an issue that affects everyone."
Kye said that, being surrounded by chefs, she understands why they’re so adamant on the subject of food waste.
“Chefs are the most obsessed people when it comes to food waste because it is every measure of their business and their lives, and it comes down to reducing food waste to make more money and feed more people,” Kye said. “There’s so many ways they try to utilize food waste and reduce it because that’s a very important part of cooking.”
From the beginning of production, Chai and Kye had an idea of what they wanted their audience to take away from the film. They wanted their viewers to feel empowered by the documentary, they said, and leave the theater with next steps in mind.
“When we started doing research on this problem, we found a lot of ways an average person could do something,” Chai said. “Whether it’s taking leftovers home or trying to use the butts of your vegetables or fruits in smoothies, or composting.”
"From the beginning, we always wanted people to walk out of the film with three things — a fact they didn’t know, an actionable solution they could do, or something fun,” she added. “A little bit of action on the grassroots level could have a big difference … We were lucky that it was fun and exciting to shed light on all these solutions in hopes of making the world a little bit of a better place.”