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The Automat

1h 19m Documentary 2021

Featuring testimonials from a slew of esteemed former customers, including comedy icons Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, this fascinating film delves deep into America’s most iconic automat restaurant chain, Horn & Hardart. Before there was fast food as we know it, there was Horn & Hardart, a beloved chain that was much more than a place for cheap eats. These restaurants formed a vital part of America’s social fabric in the first half of the 20th Century as filmmaker Lisa Hurwitz demonstrates in this valuable documentary. Opening its first location in Philadelphia in 1902, Horn & Hardart was the first stateside example of a European-style automat, a restaurant in which coin-operated vending machines offered everything from baked beans and macaroni to Salisbury steak and a mouth-watering array of pies. Eventually expanding to New York City, Horn & Hardart became a cultural phenomenon and an institution, attracting customers from diverse backgrounds with its democratic combination of pocket-friendly cuisine and gleaming, aspirational design. In addition to informative interviews with historians and experts, Hurwitz includes a bevy of recollections from luminaries such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Colin Powell, Elliot Gould, and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. Each shares their memories of frequenting automats and their personal insights into the ways that these nearly forgotten establishments helped shape everyday American life. To top that, Mel Brooks also contributes a new original song for the film titled “At the Automat.” Courtesy Miami JFF


Mel Brooks


Lisa Hurwitz