A documentary charting the creation of Scotch Whiskey and its place in the landscape and people of Scotland, Scotch: The Golden Dram, will play the Virgin Media Founded in 2003, the Dublin International Film Festival sets the agenda of the year with its programme of outstanding Irish and international film. on Saturday, March 2nd. Scannain caught up with director Andrew Peat to talk about the film prior to this premiere.
Created by an international filmmaking team, Scotch delves deeper into the personalities behind the revered drink that stands at the heart of Scottish culture and life. Filmed throughout the Scottish countryside, it examines the history and making of Uisge Beatha – the water of life. At the heart of the documentary are the characters who inhabit it, including Richard Paterson, a master blender whose nose was insured for $2.5 million, and Jim McEwan, the legendary distiller and industry veteran.
The screening will be followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker and a special reception hosted by Blackwater Distillery in the VIP Lounge Omniplex. Tickets are on sale now.
Scannain: What made you want to make a documentary about whiskey?
Andrew Peat: My background is this. My maternal grandfather emigrated from Glasgow to America. So we’ve always had that family connection. I went to the University of California for my undergraduate work and I did one year as an exchange fellow to St Andrew’s University. While I was at St Andrew’s I thought well I’m in the home of whiskey, why don’t I go and learn something about it? Before that, I really knew nothing. So I went into a whiskey shop and I said “Here I am, I’m a complete newbie, what would be your suggestion? What should I start with?” And he suggested a half bottle of Glenmorangie, a 10-year-old single malt. Which is, strangely enough, the same as Dr. Bill Lumsden in the film, that was his first drink and got him turned on to it. After that, it was a matter of tasting other whiskeys and what not. Then when I went for my post-graduate work in film school, I went to the University of Southern California, and before graduation, we are all supposed to take a class in industry. They have several different industry classes that are a preparation for going out into the industry. So the class I took was the pitch class. you learn how to pitch your projects to producers and film financiers. So we had to think of several different films that we had to pitch. We had to do pitches in class and they actually brought in professional producers and film -type people to listen to our pitches and give us responses. I really wanted to do a pitch of something that i could actually make. You could always pitch something like the next Star Wars or something like that, but it is completely unrealistic. So I decided that one of them, and we had to do several pitches, so I said one of them had to be something that I could truly make. And I was thinking about that, about what I could make and I do a little research and I find out that there’s really not much in the way of documentaries on Scotch or on whiskey. We’ve documentaries about beer and lots of documentaries about wine, like the wine industry in California and France, but there really wasn’t much about whiskey. I thought that here was something that I might actually be able to do, and so I pitched that and I got a very good response. A few months later, after graduation, I decided to see if I could actually do this. That was when I started doing my pre-production work, doing some research and contacting various distilleries and master blenders and master distillers, and other people related to that like the shop that makes the high-end whiskey bottles. It was just months of communicating from my home base in Taiwan and lots of back and forth on that, and then flying over and making the film.
How did you find Jim McEwan and the other characters for your film?
Basically the internet research of who were the master blenders and master distillers and then going to some of the distillery websites and looking at them and getting some idea about them, and then contacting them. Part of it was how do you contact them? Many times you can’t contact them and you have to go via the office or the company. So I was contacting people, and some didn’t respond, and some were too busy or weren’t interested, and so obviously you are working your way through the different possibilities. You work with the people who respond and who say yes. There was a certain amount of serendipity involved, especially when you are making a documentary because if you are making a regular feature narrative film you already have your story and you’ll have your actors set out and you can prepare everything and be ready. When you are making a documentary a lot of it you don’t know what you are going to get. You don’t know how things are going to turn out, and so a lot of it is just luck or what happens and what you do with it. And so for example, Jim turned out to be the main character. that was not planned. I didn’t know that he was going to be the main character of the film. It was a matter of we got there and he gave us plenty of time. Some of the characters couldn’t give us as much time as they are all busy people. Jim gave us quite a bit of time, he opened up and he got other people connected to him involved, like his daughters. And he let us film the whole family scenes out on the beach and things like that. Some of the characters aren’t as willing to let you into their family. And then I discovered that he was retiring! I didn’t know that when we arrived, that he was retiring that week and that he was giving the last tasting of his life the next day after we arrived. He asked us if we’d like to film that and we went “Sure. We’d like to film that!” He had such a rich experience and he’s so well know, which I didn’t know at the time when were first going over. And then he was retiring. So there were all of these events were just lining up. His whiskey had just won Best Whiskey in the World. All of these things I didn’t know when we arrived there. It was luck, it was chance, it was serendipity. With the other characters we had lined based on how much time they could give us and how interesting they were as characters. Of our total footage that we shot for the film only 2% is in film. 98% is on the cutting room floor. There’s a whole ton of stuff and a whole lot of characters that didn’t make it into the film. Whole story lines that cut out simply because nobody wants to sit around and watch a 60 hour film.
Is screening it at festivals or in cinemas important to you?
As a filmmaker the reason that you make a film is for people to see it. And our greatest hope is that they will enjoy it and that they might learn something from it. Be emotionally touched in some way. Of course, if you are sitting at home and watching it on a computer it’s a different experience than if you are watching it in a theatre with a whole audience. Which I’ve done with festival audiences in a number of places. When everyone is laughing together at certain points or they are feeling touched at certain moments, you can get that feeling through the whole theatre and that’s really something special. And that’s one of the reasons that I like to go into the theatre and have that experience, even though I’ve seen this film how many times now! I don’t go in to watch the film, I go in to watch the reactions. I’m really pleased that our UK and Irish distributor is going to be releasing it into some of the theatres around the UK and Ireland. And, especially for a documentary film, that’s very unusual.
We understand that you’ll be over for the screening?
I will be flying over for the festival. I’m a film professor based in China. So I’ll be flying over for a big premiere event in Glasgow at the Glasgow Film Festival on March 1st, and on March 2nd I fly over to Dublin for that film festival. We’ll be doing a Q&A after the film. I know that in Glasgow they are going to have some of the characters from the film and some of the distilleries are going to be supporting it, and doing whiskey tastings afterward.