Review: ‘Beer Wars’
After watching Anat Baron’s new documentary, ‘Beer Wars,’ you are sure to want a cold one. An expert of the business and former general manager of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Baron has an insider’s mindset when it comes to the world of alcoholic beverages and the corporate environment that surrounds them. Her film not only covers the big corporations of the beer industry, Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors, it sets its sights on the little guys, the companies that are struggling to survive in a market that is completely swamped. And, what’s more, she does so with a confident eye for filmmaking that makes ‘Beer Wars’ every bit as entertaining as it is eye-opening.
Baron utilizes several different techniques to get her points across, but none of them feel forced. She incorporates talking heads, found footage and even animation to express her ideas to the audience, and it all works masterfully towards the ultimate goal. Much commendation goes to editor Douglas Blush, who is no stranger to documentary film editing. Having worked on films like ‘Wordplay’ and ‘I.O.U.S.A,’ he has a veterans eye for piecing together a non-fiction story in the most constructive and fascinating way possible. Equally gifted is the animation put on display by graphic designer Christopher Kirk. Intelligent yet playful, Kirk’s animation offers a perfect trimming to the rest of the film.
No stone is left unturned, either, in Baron’s quest to bring to light the inner-workings of the beer industry. Everything is covered from the actual processing of the beer to the usage of marketing the giant corporation utilize to even shedding light on the way the beer is displayed in your local supermarket. She does so in a way that never gets bogged down in tedious facts or jumbled corporate-speak. No specific topic is ever held on for far too long as to allow the viewer to lose even an ounce of interest in the overall story. Even the governmental side of the beer industry and the 37,000 beer laws that are in effect are brought into play. Everything is laid right out in front of the viewer to soak up and take with them, and, while Baron never fully comes right out and gives us her opinion on all of this, she sets forth a clear understanding of the way things are and the way they probably ought to be.
But Baron’s film is not only factual understanding of how this business works. She does an incredible job putting a human face to it, as we follow two entrepreneurs as they struggle to survive in the swamped market. Sam Calagione and Rhonda Kallman, the founders of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and New Century Brewing Company, respectively, offer the film its humanistic side. Both are equally likable, and we suffer with them, as we watch them fighting their hardest to make it. Between Baron’s storytelling and witnessing Sam and Rhonda’s hardships in breaking through the barriers of the “little guys,” ‘Beer Wars’ ends up becoming a fascinating tale of David and Goliath.
You also grow frustrated as the film progresses. There are so many tricks and shortcuts Baron brings to light that keeps the mammoth companies in charge that you wonder how or why it has never been brought to such a forefront in your mind before. This is no more evident when Baron covers the way the beer companies utilize marketing, particularly during the Super Bowl. She uses brilliant juxtaposition of corporate talking heads talking about what makes their brand so different from the competition with various ads from the big companies. These ads say nothing about the beer and only entice their audiences with humor and brand loyalty. This also comes up in the scenes that cover the shelf space in local supermarkets. The big corporations view these as real estate, and, more often than not, a new product will be introduced for the sole purpose of swallowing up that real estate to push the smaller companies off to the side. the notion of category killers and the big companies attempting to sell themselves off as smaller breweries are just a few of the other tricks Baron brings to light during her film.
‘Beer Wars’ is the perfect kind of documentary, one that is both informative and enjoyable to watch in every sense the filmmaker intended. Not only that, it gives the viewer a new-found appreciation for the smaller companies that are attempting to make any kind of headway in a world dominated by only a few. The film is Anat Baron’s first endeavor into documentary filmmaking, and, while her style will more than likely garner comparison to Michael Moore, she ends up coming off as more diplomatic in her approach to the subject matter. Sure, there are jabs at the big corporations here and there. Who can blame her for that? But her technique with this is far more subdued than that of ‘Roger & Me,’ and her focus seems more honed than even that of ‘Bowling for Columbine’ or ‘Sicko.’ Baron is a documentary filmmaker that everyone should keep their eye on, and ‘Beer Wars’ is a triumphant mixture of style, information, and storytelling. Let’s just hope Baron’s interests do not stop at the world of alcohol.
Now, who’s buying?