Monday, May 18, 2009

Beer Wars: The ongoing discussion

If you missed the one-night screening of Beer Wars last month, then perhaps you’d be interested to know the DVD version is coming soon.

That’s from Anat Baron, the director/writer/producer of the film, which trains a spotlight on how craft brewers ply the choppy waters of the U.S. brewing industry and its three-tier system. Anat graciously gave some of her time for a Q&A conducted via email. Her answers arrived on Sunday.

You said you hoped to set into motion a discussion on the topic of small/craft/artisanal brewers and the muscle tactics used by the mega brewers. Do you feel Beers Wars has accomplished that? And if so, how do we sustain that discussion and steer it toward producing change?
A: I don't think that we've reached a wide enough audience. So far, most of the people who saw the film were already craft beer lovers, and so most of the story was familiar to them. I made the film in the hopes of attracting a more mainstream audience. Not necessarily mainstream beer drinkers but people who care about consumerism, capitalism and the future of this country. I know that sounds very grandiose, but to me what's happening in the beer industry is similar to what's going on in many other industries. How do we get a bigger audience? The old-fashioned way: through word of mouth. People telling other people to watch this film. That it will make them think about the choices that they make. The more people see it and talk about it, the bigger the buzz. And then we can start a meaningful discussion. In the mainstream media.

Q: The film met with some harsh criticism in some circles, and you defended your work on the Web site. Do you think those critics missed the point, getting hung up on presentation, and failed to appreciate that, given the current arrangement with the big brewers and three-tier system, there isn't a remote chance of leveling the playing field without some Herculean efforts/major changes?
A: When you make a film, you expect criticism. What surprised me was that most people missed the point. They wanted me to make THEIR version of Beer Wars. I chose to make this film with the characters I did in order to make a point. If other people want to see brewers like Ken Grossman or Fritz Maytag as central characters, they can make their own film. THIS film is about the challenges that the small brewers face, and it uses two characters to show them. The three-tier system continues to be the biggest obstacle to growth for small brewers. The dependence of most distributors on their big brewer “partners” creates a playing field that is completely lopsided. Yes, things are “better” than they were in late 2005 when I stated filming, but they are in no way closer to level. I think the question is WHEN will we change (not abolish, change) the three-tier system, not IF. And all change begins with a few voices that keep getting louder.

Are you satisfied that Beer Wars is part of the record on this topic, something any individual or group can point to as a reference?
A: I certainly hope so. I made the film so there would be a reference point. Anyone could watch it and understand the issues. And hopefully begin to think about what it means not only to them personally but to American business overall.

Q: Some people have asked when the DVD release will be. Looks like it is indeed in the works, is that correct? And for those who have seen the film already, what can they expect on the DVD?
A: Yes, (the) DVD is in production. I am rushing it out because so many theaters had technical issues on April 16th that I wanted to make things right. The DVD will include the film, the panel discussion and some deleted scenes. We hope to start shipping in early June.

Q: Will the film be screened again? And can you say what it cost to pull off the April 16th presentation?
A: We have a theatrical run in June at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Houston and San Antonio. And more to be announced. As to the cost of the April 16th event, I signed a confidentiality agreement, so all I can say is that there was a significant investment to get the word out.

Michael Moore made Pets or Meat as a short-film follow-up to Roger & Me. Do you plan to revisit Beer Wars with some kind of follow-up down the road?
A: I think that the story is ripe for some sort of “sequel.” I'm not sure if it'll be a film but at least a TV or Web follow-up.

Q: Have you stayed in touch with Rhonda Kallman and Sam Calagione (the two brewers/beer companies spotlighted in Beer Wars) since the film was screened?
A: Yes, we have spoken on several occasions and plan to keep in touch going forward. I actually spoke to both of them this past week.

Q: We watched the film in a sparsely filled theater in southern New Jersey (the scant audience is indicative of craft beer’s struggles in the Garden State, plus we have a Bud brewery in Newark). Do you have attendance figures, either hard counts or anecdotal, to show where the film drew the best crowds?
A: The film and event screened in (most of) the 440 theaters spread out across cities and suburbs in most states. We did better in big cities like Boston, New York (and) San Francisco than suburban multiplexes.

No comments: