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Interview with Writer/Director David Eng for "Grand Cru" (2017)

"Grand Cru" by David Eng (2017)

"Grand Cru" by David Eng (2017)

Driector David Eng

Director/Writer David Eng's documentary feature “Grand Cru” (2017) has been sending ripples through the international film festival world for wine lover cinephiles. It tells the story of renown Montreal native poet/wine-maker Pascal Marchand who immigrated to Burgundy, France at the age of 21 and has lived there for three decades. There, he found a magical place where he could synergize making wine a poetry and writing poetry of wine. After over thirty years of experience in the region using ancient Cistercian techniques, Pascal became one of the most famous Burgundy wine makers. The film was shot in 2016 during one of the region's most ruinous vintages and highlights the perseverance, passion and art behind making some of the world's finest wines.

“Grand Cru” recently played at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Sonoma International Film Festival and Newport Beach Film Festival and will have a “Theatrical-on-Demand” release in the US via GathrFilms starting in May, after the 2018 Cannes Film market.

 

How did yours and Pascal's paths cross and when did you know you wanted to tell his story?

DAVID: It turns out that I first met Pascal around 20 years ago when I began my interest in wine, and didn’t even realize it. I attended a wine tasting of Burgundies in Toronto that was hosted by British wine critic Clive Coates. I recently told Pascal about that event and he said that he was touring with Mr. Coates there at that tasting. But at that time, I was a bit too clueless to appreciate his importance and more keen on getting Mr. Coates to sign his new book. When I began researching possible subjects for a wine documentary, I consulted with some people in the industry here in Montreal. One of them mentioned a few names including Pascal and pointed out that he was a Montrealer too who would regularly came back to visit. I knew about him but hadn’t realized he was local. This piqued my interest, so I read up on him and grew increasingly convinced that he was the right choice. He's had a storied career, and I loved his thoughtful and spiritual approach to his work. 

DAVID CONT'D: I contacted Pascal and found him thoroughly receptive, charming, easygoing and quite willing to pursue this project together. He is extremely likeable and generous, and we immediately got along very well. I came to see why an outsider like him was able to succeed in Burgundy where they are known to be wary of outsiders. Even though he’s actually an introvert, he’s a great people-person to whom you can’t help but take a liking.

 

Do you think that while the quality of wine production is being threatened by many elements it will continue to survive by people like Pascal?  

DAVID: Yes, I think with all the increasing challenges that growers and winemakers face, that it will be through people like Pascal that wine can continue to thrive and develop. However, it won’t be easy, especially with climate change. Not only are many regions becoming too hot for wine, but of course the extreme weather occurrences can result in disasters like the 2016 frost in Burgundy, or the recent wildfires in California and countries like Spain. If we don’t start taking climate change seriously, then wine production, as well as everything else, will be irreparably harmed.

 

Did you know a lot about Grand Cru before filming or did you learn as you shot the film?

DAVID: I’ve been a wine lover for at least a couple of decades. I’ve been to many wine regions and did a fair amount of reading, so I know more than most. But, I had never been to Burgundy and I didn’t know Burgundy as well as I should have. I always found it a little intimidating because it’s one of, if not the most complicated of the wine regions to understand. So I definitely learned a lot during the course of filming, not only by being there and being able to make connections with all these names and places that I was familiar with, but also by having people like Pascal and his team to answer any questions I had.

 

Do you believe wine is bottled poetry? And what do you believe is the secret to making the best wine in the world?

DAVID: I do think that wine, like food, can be something artistic and poetic in the hands of a master. Not everything is going to reach that level, and there’s a place for that too. Sometimes street food or fast food hits the spot even though those cooks may not be master chefs. And so it is with wine – some are simple everyday bottles while others are masterpieces. But to make the very best wine requires a lot of things to fall into place. Not only do you need immense financial resources and a team capable of doing all the necessary labour, but the winemaker has to have a lot of knowledge, experience, and respect for the terroir of the region. Finally, the winemaker must be passionate, dedicated, daring and creative while being true to what nature provides.

 

Did you face any weather challenges while making the film?

DAVID: While we were filming, we faced the weather challenges that Pascal faced but from the perspective of trying to capture it on camera to be able to tell the story. It was very hard with things like hail storms which were one of the problems they faced and happened while we were there. But hailstorms happen in quick bursts of only a few minutes at most. So by the time we’d get our camera set up, it would be over. So we were able to film the aftermath of many events, but we had to supplement our own footage with archives, photos, headlines and other material to flesh out some of the weather events.

 

How long did it take you to film and how many hours did you have?

DAVID: The majority of the filming took place over the 2016 vintage. We’d go there for about a week every couple of months, except for the harvest when we stayed for 2 weeks. We ended up shooting almost a hundred hours of footage. However, the development and pre-production started in late 2014. Most of 2017 was taken up with editing and post-production and we finished in October. So all told, it was about 3 years from start to finish.

 

There has been a surge of wine films in the last decade. Do you think this will continue as consumers continue to appreciate wine more each year?

DAVID: I suspect it will indeed continue surging because wine is such a rich and fascinating subject that can be approached in so many different ways – the history, regions, grape varieties, food pairing, wine-making techniques, and so on. Those that are curious and don’t always want to consume the same thing over and over again will find the world of wine to be endlessly compelling and delightful as I did.

 

You've been on a film festival circuit to wine regions everywhere. How have people from those regions reacted to the film?

DAVID: We’ve gotten great responses to the film wherever we’ve played. What’s particularly gratifying to me is that we’ve played in some festivals in wine regions such as Santa Barbara and Sonoma, and the response has been terrific from both those who came to it without knowing anything at all about wine as well as winemakers and those in the business. This is what I was trying to do, to reach a broad audience. So it’s a good feeling to know that we’ve succeeded in making a film that can appeal to everyone, and not just preach to the converted. I’m also very proud for my team because audiences have praised the cinematography, music, editing, and even the sound design. I was very fortunate to work with a great group of people who were completely behind the film and gave it their very best.

 

You attended Sonoma FF with Pascal. How was that experience?

DAVID: Being at the Sonoma International Film Festival with Pascal and his wife Amandine was a lot of fun. The festival treated us extremely well, and they had us staying at a gorgeous ranch called The Hydeout. We got to attend screenings and events like the Gala Dinner together, and we visited a few wineries where we were given the red carpet treatment because of their respect for Pascal. And when we presented our own film, people were very excited to be able to ask Pascal and Amandine questions after feeling like they’d gotten to know them. Pascal really connected with them and told them that he didn’t want to seem like he’s complaining too much about his problems shown in the film because he knows how hard it has been for California with the fires. That was a lovely genuine moment that touched many in the audience.

 

What will you be working on next?

DAVID: I have a couple of very different projects that are in development right now, but nothing in production just yet. Meanwhile, we’re still working on getting Grand Cru out into the world. We will have a “Theatrical-on-Demand” release in the US via GathrFilms starting this month. 

You can learn more here:

https://www.grandcrufilm.com/hostascreening

 

Interview by Vanessa McMahon

 

gersbach.net