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The Best Audio Stories, In Three Minutes Or Less


This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. Since 2000, the Third Coast International Audio Festival has been curating some of the best audio stories from around the world. One of the submission categories is short documentaries. These are pieces no longer than three minutes. This year's theme for short docs was appetite. Joining us from member station WBEZ, in Chicago, to talk about the winners is Third Coast's artistic director, Julie Shapiro. Hey, Julie.


WERTHEIMER: So could you lay out the ground rules for the short doc competition?

SHAPIRO: Sure. Every year, we invite anyone and everyone to submit short stories based on a theme that we decide on with a partner. This year's partner was the James Beard Foundation, so the theme for this year's stories was appetite. But we didn't make it that easy. You also had to follow a couple other rules. You had to present your story in three, quote-unquote, "courses," and you had to put one of the five tastes in the title.

WERTHEIMER: How many entries did you get?

SHAPIRO: We ended up with a record 250 short docs, submitted from around the world.

WERTHEIMER: Julie, could you tell us about the first runner-up, which is called "Sweet Baby June Eats the World"?

SHAPIRO: Sure. So, this is a three-minute story about one night in the life of the producer's 8-month-old daughter, and him and his own life. Matt Largee is a public radio producer down in Austin, Texas. And he produced "Sweet Baby June Eats the World."

WERTHEIMER: We're just giving you a little - a slice of "Sweet Baby June."

SHAPIRO: Just one course.


MATT LARGEE: ...3:17 a.m., the second bottle.


LARGEE: (Reading) Open - water, formula; close. Shake, pop.


LARGEE: Serve.


LARGEE: Sometimes, I'll watch her while she sleeps, wonder what she dreams about - the faraway places and the pictures in that magazine she ate yesterday? Or just the feel of that glossy paper soggy in her mouth, the sound as she crinkles the paper in her tiny, clumsy hands? After all, the world's hers to consume; every sight, smell and texture is new and wonderful, and she's hungry for it all.

WERTHEIMER: You know, I never realized that it was such a universal thing that babies eat magazines.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Apparently, this is the universal baby habit. As the mother of a 2-year-old, I can relate very well to those long nights.

WERTHEIMER: The third-place finisher also has "sweet" in the title. It's called "Sweet Cheesecake Heartbreak."

SHAPIRO: Yeah. "Sweet Cheesecake Heartbreak: Three Dates" is by Catie Talarski(ph), who's a reporter out in Connecticut. And her one-sentence summary sums it up: Spicy kielbasa, sweet cheesecake and a glass of merlot are foodstuffs of great and horrible dates.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughing)


CATIE TALARSKI: It was a private party in a private room with a private wine tasting, a great date - with a foodie! One of only a handful with this guy, but who cares? When you're eating a four-course meal with wine pairings, and the chef is personally serving your food...


TALARSKI: ...another glass of merlot, a tour through your wine cellar? Of course I could get used to this.


TALARSKI: Although our love is not everlasting, this meal seems to be.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As waiter) Another course, madam?

WERTHEIMER: Now, this year's winner, you get to announce this one.

SHAPIRO: My pleasure. It's "Blackbird Pot Pie: Not the Pie Umami Made." It gets some creative points for use of "umami" in the title. Here's a summary of it: For South Jersey resident John Farner(ph), sing a song of sixpence is more than just a nursery rhyme, it's supper.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughing) OK. Let's listen to it.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing) Sing a song of sixpence, pockets full of rye...

JOHN FARNER: (Singing) I've got blackbirds. I've got blackbirds. (Laughter)

Norris Pew was a huckster who used to sell blackbirds in his pushcart for 50 cents a peach basketful. See, hucksters would come around when everything was in season: blackbirds, catfish, clams, vegetables, muskrats - whatever.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing) Four and 20 blackbirds baked in a pie...

FARNER: I'm John E. Farner from Salem, N.J. And as a youngster, my grandmother was a very good cook. One of the things she cooked for us during the season, which was always in the fall, was blackbird potpie.


FARNER: Well, the saying said you need 20 and four. (Laughing) Whatever you bought - 50, 60, 70 birds - it was all put in that one pie. Before you cooked them, you cut the head off but you left the feet on. So you had something to hold on to when you got your blackbird.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing) When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing, wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?

FARNER: It's a very gentle taste. It doesn't taste like chicken. When you ate blackbirds, you picked them up very carefully and held one end by the feet and the other end by the neck; and you very softly chewed or sucked the meat off the blackbird 'till all the meat was gone.

Then you get another blackbird 'cause when you got the feathers off, there wasn't much left of that little bird. I mean, a blackbird's not too big - a little bigger than a man's thumb. When we ate our blackbird potpie, someone would always remember a song they sang about the blackbirds.

(Singing) Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye, four and 20 blackbirds baked in a pie. When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing, wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king? (Laughing) A dainty dish - a little bird like that. It was dainty, all right.

WERTHEIMER: So that was the entire short doc, and it was lovely. I think that was great. What made this one stand out to the judges, do you think?

SHAPIRO: I think whoever hears this, first and foremost, responds to John's voice. There's so much personality and emotion and character in his voice. But I think this one takes you back to your own childhood, and lets you think about all of your - sort of nostalgic, childhood food memories, growing up. So in the way that it responds to appetite, I think it stirs a lot of appetites for thinking about the past, and learning more about food culture and the stories behind the food that we eat.

WERTHEIMER: Talking to us from Chicago, Julie Shapiro, artistic director for the Third Coast International Audio Festival. Julie, thank you very much.

SHAPIRO: Thank you. It's been a real pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.