The primal confluence of food, flames and family simmers in high definition in “Barbecue,” a globe-trotting new documentary and cinematic love letter to cooking meat over an open fire.
The feature-length movie filmed in 12 countries had its global premiere at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, not far from some of the barbecue joints that inspired Australian filmmaker Matthew Salleh and his partner Rose Tucker to explore the globe’s shared barbecue culture.
“Barbecue is this perfect combination of tradition, community and culture,” Salleh said in a weekend interview shortly after the film’s debut.
“We just started talking to people and everyone was passionate about their country’s version of barbecue,” Salleh said over a plate of barbecued brisket, beef rib and sausage in Austin.
“In the six or seven months that we researched it, we were pitched by people who said ‘you have got to come to my country,’” he said, adding they are shopping for a distributor for the film.
He and Tucker went on a 200-day shoot that took them from Sweden to Uruguay, with stops including Armenia, Mongolia, Japan and a refugee camp on the Syria-Jordan border.
While the barbecue craft varied from the hot stones used to cook marmot in Mongolia to the pit used to grill goat in Mexico, the message in each trip was the same. Communities and families came together around the food.
“We have vegetarians who have seen the film and you cannot deny the cultural significance in the world of eating meat over the fire,” Salleh said.
The film starts in South Africa, where racial divides of apartheid still scar the country, and shows the separate and similar barbecue tradition among blacks and whites. It includes Philippines family gatherings around roast pig and exiled Syrians trying to recapture a bit of home at a shawarma shop in a refugee camp.
After their trek, Salleh and Tucker says they have received gentle ribbing from people asking why their country’s barbecue did not make the cut and a persistent question of what barbecue was best.
“At this point we begin the politically correct process of saying how we loved them all,” Salleh said. Tucker added the answer can be more about the experience, then the taste.
“We had some of the best experiences in Armenia where you drink vodka with the first bite of meat,” she said.