Hot Docs 2024 Review | Born Hungry

by Andrew Parker

Although the inspirational movie cliches are layered on a little thick in Barry Avrich’s latest documentary Born Hungry, the film’s thoughtfully assembled focus on the career and life struggles of Toronto restauranteur Sash Simpson is resoundingly successful at making the viewer realize anything is possible when talent is cultivated, nurtured, and supported in the right way.

Known best for his time as head chef at Mark McEwan’s North 44 and now for his globally acclaimed Summerhill fine dining establishment, Sash, Simpson came to Toronto in 1979 at the age of nine from India, where he was a runaway orphan living on the streets from a young age. Simpson, who can’t fully remember his birth parents, siblings, or what led to the split from his family, was adopted by philanthropist Sandra Simpson, who famously raised her own biological children alongside dozens of other orphans who were rescued from dangerous living situations. Sash Simpson credits his adopted mother with saving him from almost certain death on the streets, but as he gets older and continues life with a family of his own, he’s curious to travel back to India and hopefully track down his parents, siblings, and links to a past where details are sketchy, but the trauma still remains.

Avrich sometimes presses the crowd pleasing button a few times too many (particularly via some needlessly on-the-nose song choices), but the director is always wise enough to let Simpson tell his own story, and for his subject to come to revelations in his own time and way. Born Hungry features plenty of interviews with Simpson’s collaborators, friends, and family, but Sash gregariously delivers his own story better than anyone else ever could. Born Hungry is an examination of someone who has thought long and hard about the life they’ve led and the dark turns it could’ve taken, and they are keen to decipher what they all could mean. Avrich also confidently assembles the film’s globe trotting, time shifting journey into a fluid package where the past informs the present.

There is a culinary component to Born Hungry that naturally arises, as Simpson’s trip to India also tries to connect his past to foods he never got to fully experience or appreciate while growing up on the streets, but all of that is secondary information that strengthens the rest of the personal narrative. Born Hungry is an intimate, heartfelt journey told through the eyes of a subject who never stops wondering about the past and future.

Thursday, May 2, 2024 – 5:15 pm – TIFF Lightbox 2

Sunday, May 5, 2024 – 2:15 pm – TIFF Lightbox 1

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