Barbecue review: Tradition and family congregation is at the heart of this 13 course trip around the world.

Barbecue review by Dan Bullock, Sydney Film Festival.

Barbecue is offered up to us by Australian filmmakers Matthew Selleh and Rose Tucker in 13 courses disguised as a world-tour of different approaches to the simple, but effective, way to cook meat. Stretched out across the world, they’ve gathered tales from communities and cultures that live and breathe the essence of ‘barbecue’. While their methods in the process of using fire, coal, charcoal, electricity and wood vary greatly from nation to nation, there is a layer that links all of them and that’s one of feeling like you’re part of something bigger, which quite often ends up being described as meeting with family, friends and even strangers.

From South Africa to Armenia, New Zealand to Mongolia, Sweden to Japan, the Philippines to Mexico, Uruguay, Australia, Texas and the Syrian UNICEF camps on the Jordanian border, they’ve truly explored the nature of the process in impressive terms. This is a world tour of food but what’s the point of it all? Is this a journey of self-discovery for just the film-makers, or does the insight and revealing nature of true community come across? You should be able to tell from those questions that despite moments of doubt, and in some cases a soaring musical score that distracts, Barbecue is often at its best when it’s cutting down the bone, exploring societies that rely unequivocally on fire and meat for survival of their people and traditions.

What’s interesting for me was before I knew what to expect, my main excitement was for the Texan story of beef brisket and method but, quite intriguingly, by the time we got to that section – as every country is given its own slot within the documentary – I found it the least stimulating, and also it felt naïve and rather narcissistic.  American’s are known for their loud nature but after seeing cultures reliant on keeping up traditions with little more than the goats they keep, the tents they sleep in, or the education they’ve given up to help their family business, the Texas meat industry, despite the honest passion from the people involved, felt quite empty in its excess.

Moving back to the positives, the moments that really linked a lot of meat and barbecue together is the countryside and living outside of the busy existence of the city. Alongside these places is the habitual theme of traditional and congregating the family and friends together to talk, eat and laugh. It’s clear that in everywhere we visit, the entire process is about friendship and doing the meat justice. The first two stories both mention the word ‘primal’ as well which, to me, was very intriguing – they felt it’s in their DNA- as it took them back to the beginning of humans as they are today, creating fire, cooking meat, sharing it and warming up – something only human beings are capable of.

Across the Globe, you realise again that we’ve got more in common than most would consider and it would be a hell of an epic adventure and exploration to go on something like this. To immerse in the culture, to hear/learn/try and learn their lives would be something special. It’s also rewarding to hear how this very simple setup gives people a sense of self, a connection to their country and although they all appear to feel this, and alongside all the ways meat can be prepared, it’s the fire and gatherings that get folks going.

Barbecue has a definite earthy vibe, a somewhat suggested bohemian existence of drifting away with what’s happening in front of you, beyond the chaos and madness of a busy world around you. If you’ve got cooking in your blood though, or a huge love for the process of any food preparation and history, then you’ll really enjoy this and probably need to pick up some meat afterwards as well to try some new ideas out.

Barbecue is playing at the Sydney Film Festival.