Interview with the Filmmakers of “Barbecue”


I recently reviewed this great barbecue food documentary that is currently available on all different types of digital platforms, but I wanted to get a better understanding behind the documentary so I reach out to the  filmmakers of the barbecue documentary to see if they would be interested in sharing with me and all my readers their inspiration behind the documentary and some other interesting tid bits about the film. I hope that you enjoy the interview and also the documentary.

[The interview is slightly edited for clarity and spelling]

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First, tell Grilling with Rich readers about yourself and where you come from etc… 

Rose Tucker: Matthew Salleh and I are a documentary filmmaking team.  Matthew directs and shoots our films, whilst I produce and record sound.  We edit our films together.  We are originally from Adelaide, Australia, but we have recently moved to New York City.  We are a couple in life and in work, and we’ve been running our production company, Urtext Films, since 2005.  In the last few years, we’ve really found a passion for documentary film.  After making a series of short documentaries, we decided to take on our first feature length documentary – the resulting film is ‘Barbecue’.

Most important question, what was your inspiration for the documentary? Do you BBQ yourself? 

Matthew Salleh: Growing up in Australia, I remember fondly Aussie ‘barbies’ with the family on hot summer days. I spent a lifetime being told that Australians have the best barbecue going around, that nothing in the world compares.  A few decades later, my partner Rosie and I found ourselves on a road trip through Texas.  We discovered the slow smoked brisket of Lockhart and Taylor. Suddenly I realized that there was more to barbecue than I previously imagined. We started talking to people from diverse backgrounds and cultures, and we quickly realized that every culture has its own form of what they would call ‘barbecue’. From khorovats to shisanyama to engangsgrill. And when we spoke to people, their eyes lit up with a fiery passion. It was then that we knew we had to make Barbecue.

What do you think the main message of the documentary is about? and what did you want the viewer to come away with at the end? 

Matthew Salleh: The world is in a fragile state at the moment. Many people are starting to close themselves off from other cultures and perhaps shared experiences. Cooking meat over fire is a ritual found across civilizations. I believe that by studying the world through the lens of barbecue, we can find a path to understanding, and perhaps salvation. When I embarked on this film, I didn’t know what I would find. Would people be closed off and distant, or would they welcome us with open arms? As we moved through communities around the world, two things struck me: the utterly unique and fascinating differences in culture, but also the similarities and hope for humanity that binds us together. The people we met inspired my hope for a global community.

I hope we impart to the audience that deep sense of being connected. That the world is a beautiful place. That there’s more that binds us than separates us. That even in despair we find hope. That all we need to do is sit down around the fire, and talk and eat.  For all that to come from a film about barbecuing may seem absolutely ridiculous. And that’s exactly what I was going for.

Why did you highlight the cultures in the documentary and what cultures didn’t make the cut and why didn’t they? 

Rose Tucker: We wanted the cultures we selected to be as geographically diverse as possible, but also to be connected thematically.  The themes of home, community, and family run throughout the film, and we wanted to show the juxtaposition between locations, whilst highlighting the similarities in the things that people find important.  As for selecting the countries we visited, we started by speaking with people in our home town of Adelaide.  It’s a very multicultural city, so we just started talking to people of different backgrounds and asking them about barbecue in their home countries.  Every person we spoke to declared that their country “does the BEST barbecue!”.  I was very difficult narrowing down the list to the final 12 countries.

We also wanted to avoid showing too many obvious locations. Instead, we wanted to highlight some of the lesser know countries and cultures.  For example, many people would assume that our film would include Argentina – but instead we decided to film in Uruguay, a small country next door to Argentina whose asado culture is equally passionate, despite their smaller population.

What was your favorite culture that you highlighted and why? 

Rose Tucker: It’s impossible to pick a favorite! In every place we visited, we were welcomed wholeheartedly by people who were proud to share their culture with us.  Hospitality was something common to all the places we visited.  It’s also important to note that it’s not just the taste of the food that makes something a great experience – for example, the humble Aussie barbecue is very simple – just a sausage in bread – but the atmosphere of sitting around the pub with a cold beer in hand is something we think of very fondly.

The country that surprised me the most was actually Armenia.  Not only are the khorovats delicious, but the jovial atmosphere, music and vodka drinking really makes the whole experience very special.  We were also incredibly humbled by our experience in Za’atari Refugee Camp, on the border of Syria and Jordan.  In this desolate, desperate place, a small shawarma restaurant plays a very important role in the community, providing a place for people to gather and talk, and share in a meal that reminds them of home.  The refugees working in the restaurant insisted on cooking us a meal, no charge, and this is something we will never forget.

Why do you think that food documentaries are so popular nowadays and what do you want to contribute to the food documentary industry? 

Matthew Salleh: When we began making this film, we were very aware that there were plenty of films that could be called a “food documentary”.  Over the last decade, people have become very passionate about food – about cooking in the kitchen, about knowing where their food comes from and knowing everything about their local restaurant scene.  I think the “food doc” has arisen to fill this newfound interest.  But with ‘Barbecue’, we wanted to go further than that.   We wanted to look beyond the mere process of cooking, and delve deeper into why there is this passion about barbecue, and why this simple act brings people together.  I guess in this sense, we consider this film as much a documentary about people, language, and culture, as we do about the food.

What were some of the challenges that go into making a documentary about BBQ and how did you overcome them? 

Matthew Salleh: To create this film we traveled to 12 countries, filmed over 200 days, and logged more 75,000 miles, meeting hundreds of people along the way. One of the greatest challenges was always language, but we always found ways to communicate. I remember being driven in an old Soviet truck around the steppes of Mongolia rounding up horses without our translator, me speaking in English and my new friend speaking in Mongolian.  Somehow we found a way to make it work. You’d be surprised how easy it is to connect sometimes.

As only a crew of two, we were introduced to a unique type of exhaustion. Keeping the visual style of the film on point, and maintaining the flow of a global narrative was always demanding. Eventually, even the task of running around and swapping lenses became a struggle. But every time I felt swamped by the enormity of the project, it was our subjects that got us up and got us working again. When you’re documenting a Mexican barbacoa chef who works almost 40 hours straight to prepare for the weekend market, the technical quibbles of filmmaking quickly disappear into thin air.

When I say “BBQ” what is the first thing that pops into your head.

Rose Tucker: Hot Australian summer, radio on, friends and family gathered around with a few drinks in hand.  Barbecue often makes me think of Christmas – in Australia, it falls in the middle of summer, and my Dad always has a Christmas Day barbecue in his back yard.

What is your favorite BBQ recipe to make and why? 

Rose Tucker: The one thing we have learned from making this film is to leave the cooking to the experts!  Our BBQ skills are pretty much limited to the kind of Aussie barbecue we show in the film – a simple sausage in bread with tomato sauce is hard to beat.  Now that we are living in the USA, Matt has started experimenting with cooking ribs – but we still have a lot to learn.

Tell, Grilling with Rich readers something that happened behind the scenes that you can share with us! 

Rose Tucker: There were so many memorable moments for us making this film.  We had a minor panic attack when our camera and audio gear were lost by the airline for a week in The Philippines.  We eventually found our gear in a shed at the airport, in amongst crates of bananas and live chickens.

We found ourselves in some pretty interesting scenarios whilst on the road – when filming the New Zealand section of the film, we stayed on the marae, and slept in a communal sleeping room.  There’s nothing quite like trying to sleep through the ‘snorechestra’ of several large Māori men!

Being a film about food, we obviously were lucky enough to try a lot of the food that appears on the screen.  This includes tasting a barbecued marmot in Mongolia – which as it turns out, is a natural carrier of the bubonic plague.  We both lived to tell the tale.

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