One of the very best things that happened during the SCAA show in Seattle didn’t actually happen at the SCAA show in Seattle: The world premiere of “A Film About Coffee,” the new documentary from director Brandon Loper and the production company Avocados & Coconuts, is hands down the most informative, stylish, and compassionate motion picture to be made about our favorite beverage to date.
So many people turned out at the AMC Regal Cinema in downtown Seattle on the evening of April 26 for the screening that Brandon and crew had to add a second showing. And this was some kind of crowd, too—almost all of the luminaries featured in the film showed up to see the final result, among them George Howell, Darrin Daniel, Michael Phillips, Devin Chapman, Kyle Glanville, Eileen Hassi Rinaldi, Kevin Bohlin, Peter Giuliano, and the crew from Slate Coffee. Other interview subjects in “A Film About Coffee” include James Freeman, Chris Owens, Katie Carguilo, Ben Kaminsky, Kent Bakke, and the delightful Katzu Tanaka.
I. Loved. This. Film. I had pretty high expectations, since I’d interviewed Brandon about “A Film About Coffee” back when he was still in production (I talk about it in my Editor letter and also on page 18 of the October+November issue of Barista Magazine, which you can read online HERE). The crowd was tittering with excitement that Saturday night in Seattle, myself included. Considering the highbrow coffee troops assembled, 2010 World Barista Champ Michael Phillips brought some welcome levity when he arrived just before lights out carrying a giant bucket of popcorn and an extra large soda, tripping over himself with loud exclamations of “‘scuse me, pardon me, ooopsy, sorry” before taking his seat.
And then it began: A lovely collage of images capturing the process of brewing a single siphon. The original soundtrack by Brian Hall of Marmoset Music in Portland introduces itself in perfect tandem to the images flashing across the screen: plucking strings when we hear from industry experts about the poetics of coffee and its history; then crescendos of sound as the reel reveals sweeping vistas of Lake Kivu in Rwanda captured in big swooping shots; I imagined Brandon swinging his camera from side to side while leaning out of a helicopter as it circled over Huye Mountain.
What I really like about “A Film About Coffee” is its gentle, subtle, but seriously stylishly smart observations: It’s like a bunch of really awesome coffee people are getting together, and they invited this way cool other person—not a coffee professional but someone who appreciates both the taste and the aesthetics of coffee—to hang out with them. The new person doesn’t contribute to the coffee conversations going on around him but rather absorbs them. This is “A Film About Coffee”: it stands to the side and just respects the narrative unfolding around it, without falling into the catastrophic but all-too-common pitfall of stepping into the frame and/or otherwise pushing to influence the flow of a natural, authentic story.
I drowned in the lusciousness of the panorama on screen when I watched a Rwandan coffee farmer’s legs pumping on his cargo bike as he climbed the severe, rocky slopes leading up, up, up to his co-op’s mill so he could collect a single bag of hulled coffee to transport back down the hill. I was inspired by the story-within-a-story of Darrin Daniel—then with Stumptown Coffee—as he responded to Huye Mountain producers’ appeal for fresh, running water. Stumptown stepped up unequivocally, fully funding a system to provide not only water for the mill to both expedite and purify the wet milling process, but clean drinking water for the entire village, as well. I was so struck by Kyle Glanville’s insight during an interview that no one adds to the quality of coffee; in fact, everyone who comes after the farmer takes away a little bit, that I wrote it on the palm of my hand. I got genuinely choked up watching footage of Kevin Bohlin serving straight shots and cappuccinos to coffee farmers in Honduras who had never tasted their coffee as espresso before. (Kevin wrote an article about the experience for the December+January 2013 issue of Barista Magazine.) And I laughed as Katzu Tanaka told Brandon with super hyped intensity how coffee people have to be sexy.
I had to get to a dinner that night in Seattle, otherwise I would have stayed for the second showing. As it was, I left mesmerized, really bowled over by how fully “A Film About Coffee” delivered on Brandon’s promises.
Before I got into writing about coffee, I was the film critic for The Oakland Tribune in the San Francisco Bay Area. While I haven’t sat down to write a movie review for publication in quite a while, my hands instinctively dug through my purse for paper and a pen as the documentary began that night. I hadn’t attended the screening planning to write a review, but I honestly couldn’t help myself from chronicling what I was seeing. I wanted to share it with Barista Magazine‘s readers, professionals and consumers alike—you guys just have to see this film.
West Coasters, take note: screenings in San Francisco and Portland, Ore., have just been announced. Here are the deets:
The Avocados & Coconuts crew is trying to schedule lots more screenings, so if you want to see “A Film About Coffee” in your city, let the team know! Just go here to fill out a request.