Barbecue is not just about the heat which turns meat from raw to richly seasoned and warmly cooked over an open flame, it is about the heat that brings people together in lines in Texas or on a Mongolian countryside. Barbecue, a film that premiered at SXSW’s Film Festival 2017 in Austin, Texas, does more than just capture the culture of barbecuing in 12 different countries.
It produces a narrative heat that envelopes the subjects as organically as director Matthew Salleh and co-producer Rose Tucker presented them. The film gracefully swoops, with the help of an achingly beautiful score produced by Christopher Larkin, from continent to continent, providing one bridge between each movement: the act of barbecuing.
It does not ask much of the viewer other than an appreciation of barbecue, even if you are a vegetarian, and shows you the way family, blood or not, grows at the barbecue pit. Armenia, Australia, Japan, the Syrian/Jordan border, Mexico, Mongolia, New Zealand, Philippines, South Africa, Sweden, Texas, and Uruguay are the locations of the film, and the cultures touched on by the documentary.
What you find — what I found — is that while barbecue is about community, it is equally about the future. In some way or another, each subject of the 12 countries touched on the idea that barbecue will outlast them, that their children and grandchildren will continue the tradition if they are taught well.
The children are there in the frames, wandering with sticks in mouth, helping to thwack and herd the goats, watching the pig turn in the Philippines, alongside the river in Armenia, where it is explained that when a group of children of different nationalities are together around the fire, the one playing with it will be an Armenian.
Their presence is that of listeners, of observers, as though they, too, understand the cyclical nature of life that they will continually come back to this pit, to this flame, as the years continue.
Barbecue will outlast us all, and I hope it does. It means these children, this next generation, have grown to respect it, have grown to cherish their elders, have grown with the land.
May there always be land to barbecue on. And goats to skin, and marmots to stuff, and pigs to turn, and cows to heat low and slow over indirect heat.
This is a timeless documentary, though it is one stamped by hard realities: the Syrian refuge crisis; the Armenians who are proud, but few; and the fact that desegregation worldwide is not as historic as some would like to believe, symbolized by the end of Apartheid in South Africa and by the desegregation of Black’s BBQ in Lockhart.
These moments mark their place in time, while barbecue remains the historical act, gifted to humans by the ancestors, a sentiment expressed in different ways in each of the 12 countries.
Salleh and Tucker felt the heat of the pit, and went to the source of it. I walked away feeling it, too.
Editor’s Note: As of July 20, 2017, the documentary is officially available on iTunes, Google Play, the Microsoft Store, and other streaming services. The documentary will premiere on Netflix in August.
The soundtrack is officially available on Spotify, along with other music streaming services.