Blind Ambition (2021) Production Notes


Director: Robert Coe, Warwick Ross
Writer(s): Robert Coe, Paul Murphy, Madeleine Ross
Producer(s): Warwick Ross, Rob Coe
Release Date: 2022-08-12
Runtime: 96 mins. / 1 h 36 m
Release Status: Complete

Having escaped starvation and tyranny in their homeland of Zimbabwe, four refugees have conquered the odds to become South Africa's top sommeliers. Driven by relentless optimism, a passion for their craft and unshakeable national pride, they form Zimbabwe’s first ever wine tasting team and set their sights on the coveted title of ‘World Wine Tasting Champions’. From the moment they arrive in France to compete, this team of mavericks turns an establishment of privilege and tradition on its head. A truly uplifting documentary that celebrates just how irrepressible the human spirit can be.


SYNOPSIS

Meet Tinashe, Pardon, Joseph and Marlvin: the world’s unlikeliest sommeliers. Just 10 years ago these Zimbabwean men faced destitution as inflation crippled their homeland. With no job prospects under Robert Mugabe’s brutal regime, and unable to feed their young families, they each made a harrowing decision: to leave their home and everything they’d ever known, and use their last pennies to be smuggled across the border into South Africa.

But South Africa was just another battleground. Tinashe, Pardon, Joseph and Marlvin weren’t the only ones fleeing their home country – millions of Zimbabwean refugees poured into Johannesburg seeking work. The local residents resented this influx of illegal immigrants, and soon Zimbabweans were the targets of anti-foreigner riots. With nothing but the clothes on their backs, and maligned by their new community, our protagonists slept on the floor of a local church as they searched for work: grave digging, worm farming, labouring – anything they could get.

But determination, faith and cast-iron work ethics saw the four men quickly excel, and soon our heroes found better jobs in hospitality, first scrubbing dishes, then waiting tables. But to progress past clearing plates, they would need a basic knowledge of wine. This presented multiple challenges. Because Zimbabwe had no wine industry at the time, the four men had neither heard of nor tasted wine. Furthermore, as Pentecostal Christians, they’d vowed never to touch alcohol, so the path to success also brought a crisis of faith. After much discussion with their families and members of their church, our heroes concluded that, for them, wine must be “God’s calling.”

Fast forward a few years and the four have emerged as the most celebrated sommeliers in Africa, working in some of the world’s most awarded restaurants.

Now Joseph, Tinashe, Pardon and Marlvin are about to cross the border once more. They are poised to become the first Zimbabwean team to take on one of the wine industry’s greatest challenges – The World Wine Blind Tasting Championships held in Burgundy, France. This event is commonly known as the “Olympics of wine tasting.”

And just to add to the pressure, their adventure is being followed by wine lovers and experts from all around the world. When wine luminary Jancis Robinson heard their story, she set up a crowd funding campaign to raise money to get them to France. Now all eyes will be on the four young men as they travel to Europe to test their skills against teams from 26 other countries, including the US, Britain, France, Spain and Italy.

Featuring the vibrant music and culture of Zimbabwe, BLIND AMBITION will trace their extraordinary journey from the flood plains of the Zambezi to the townships of Johannesburg. From the dramatic landscapes of the Cape to the rolling vineyards and ancient chateaux of Burgundy.

An uplifting story of hope, courage and determination, BLIND AMBITION is the “Cool Runnings” of the wine world.

DIRECTORS’ STATEMENT

When Jancis Robinson, one of the world’s foremost wine authorities, alerted us to the extraordinary rise of four Zimbabwean refugees who were fast becoming South Africa’s top sommeliers, we were immediately drawn to their story. Having made feature documentary RED OBSESSION four years earlier, we knew the wine establishment to be Europe-centric, exclusive and overwhelmingly white.

Zimbabwe is a country with next to no wine production or wine consumption. So how was it that these four men, who had never even tasted wine before escaping from Robert Mugabe’s brutal regime, were now the head sommeliers at the four best restaurants in Cape Town?

Even more remarkable was that they were in the process of forming a team to compete against 24 other countries at the WORLD WINE TASTING CHAMPIONSHIPS in France. The first black team ever to do so. Team Zimbabwe.

What would it take for them to compete at the highest level of the game? How could they believe they even had a chance? The odds against success would be overwhelming. Would the wine world take them seriously?

We felt compelled to discover more about their journey and what drove them. It would be an opportunity to follow JOSEPH, PARDON, TINASHE and MARLVIN on their quest against great odds, and to tell a story that could shed light on the lives of refugees, the challenges they face in their new communities, and what “home” means to someone who has been driven out of their country of birth. And we felt strongly their story spoke to the wider quest to break down barriers and bridge cultural and racial divides.

We discovered that the success and recognition that they had earned in South Africa was the result of their relentless optimism and their fierce determination to make a better life for themselves and their families.

What moved us about our four protagonists’ ambition to compete on the world stage was the abiding love they each have for Zimbabwe. Despite the deprivations they had suffered, the competition would be a platform to show the world the untapped potential of their mother country. They expressed their determination to use this spotlight to inspire young Zimbabweans who had been living under such a repressive regime. This was much more than the story of a competition - This was a story of hope and change.

Warwick Ross & Rob Coe

ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS

WARWICK ROSS - Director, Producer, Writer

Warwick Ross is an Australian film producer, director and writer best known for the AACTA Award-winning feature-documentary RED OBSESSION and the comedy classic, YOUNG EINSTEIN.

Warwick was born in Hong Kong in 1955 and moved to Australia in 1965. After graduating from the University of Melbourne, he attended film school at the University of Southern California. He started his career on Columbia Pictures’ THE BLUE LAGOON and went on to work on Australian feature films ROADGAMES and THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN INVINCIBLE.

In 1988 he joined the team of Yahoo Serious, David Roach and Lulu Serious to produce YOUNG EINSTEIN. A critical and box office hit, it was the most successful film ever released by Warner Bros in Australia and went on to achieve the number one box office position in France, Germany and the UK.

With the same team, Warwick produced RECKLESS KELLY, distributed internationally by Warner Bros. and MR ACCIDENT released internationally by MGM.

Warwick most recently produced, directed and wrote the feature documentary RED OBSESSION, narrated by Russell Crowe. The film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2013, screened in competition at the Tribeca Film Festival, and won two AACTA Awards - “Best Feature Length Documentary” and “Best Direction in a Documentary” – in 2014.

He is also a recipient of the 2013 Australian Writer’s Guild Award for RED OBSESSION.

Warwick has just completed producing and directing feature documentary, BLIND AMBITION, with partner Rob Coe under the duo’s newly formed production company, Third Man Films.

ROB COE – Director, Producer, Writer

Rob is a Sydney based producer, writer and director. He joined Lion Rock Films as Executive Producer of the feature documentary RED OBSESSION narrated by Russell Crowe. The film, released in 2013 by Village Roadshow, won the AACTA Award for Best Feature Documentary. The film also screened at Berlin, Tribeca, Seattle, Sydney, Melbourne and Busan Film Festivals.

Rob produced the feature film, BEAST, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015, also screening in competition at the Warsaw International Film Festival and Sydney Film Festival in 2016. The film, starring Garret Dillahunt and Angeli Bayani, won the ASEAN Skies Prize awards for Best Picture and Best Male Performance at the World Premieres Film Festival in the Philippines. BEAST was also nominated for the 2020 Byron Kennedy Award for best Australian Indie film of the decade.

Rob has also produced short films, including Tom and Sam McKeith’s A FAREWELL PARTY, and Alex Murawski’s SNOW. A FAREWELL PARTY screened at the Hanoi International Film Festival and Australia’s Flickerfest, while SNOW was made through the Sydney Film Festival Lexus Fellowship.

Rob has just completed producing and directing feature documentary, BLIND AMBITION, with partner Warwick Ross under the duo’s newly formed production company, Third Man Films.

PAUL MURPHY – Editor, Writer

Paul is a film editor and animator who has worked on a wide range of projects, including feature films, documentaries, broadcast news, commercials and music videos. To all his projects, he brings strong creative ideas, technical expertise and an emphasis on narrative.

In 2013, he edited the feature documentary RED OBSESSION narrated by Russell Crowe, which won the AACTA award (Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts) for Best Feature Documentary and screened at Berlin, Tribeca and Sydney Film Festivals. “This beautifully shot and constructed film...editor Paul Murphy must take a lot of credit for this revelatory account.” Margaret Pomeranz, At The Movies.

He edited the sports documentary AUSSIE RULES THE WORLD in 2014, narrated by David Wenham, and the feature film BEAST in 2015, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and starred Garret Dillahunt and Angeli Bayani.

Paul’s current projects also include directing the feature documentary THE MUSIC MADE THEM DO IT about the rift between a rock band in the 1980s and the conservative Christian group who protested their shows, as well as writing ‘The John Todd Tapes’, an audio podcast about a collection of mysterious tape recordings from the 1970s.

MADELEINE ROSS – Writer, Executive Producer

Madeleine is an Australian screenwriter and journalist. Her reporting has been featured in The Guardian, The South China Morning Post and Asia Tatler, where she worked as Features Editor covering the arts, travel, wine and the environment. She has also held roles at FremantleMedia Australia, The Sydney Festival and The Sydney Film Festival.

Madeleine was a Creative Consultant on AACTA award-winning feature documentary RED OBSESSION, narrated by Russell Crowe, and most recently co-wrote feature documentary BLIND AMBITION, which follows four Zimbabwean refugees as they take on the world’s best sommeliers at the World Wine Tasting Championships. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Sydney.

MARTIN MCGRATH A.C.S – Cinematographer

Martin McGrath’s career took off when he shot Jocelyn Moorhouse’s PROOF and the hugely successful MURIEL’S WEDDING two years later. He was nominated for Best Achievement in Cinematography AFI for his work on both CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION and BLACKROCK and won an AFI for PASSION starring Judy Davis and Richard Roxburgh.

His other film credits include THE SOUND OF ONE HAND CLAPPING, A LITTLE BIT OF SOUL, SWIMMING UPSTREAM (which earned him the ACS Award), FOOTY LEGENDS with Claudia Karvan, and IRRESISTIBLE, starring Susan Sarandon and Emily Blunt. Martin shot second unit on a number of US productions filmed in Australia, including PETER PAN, SON OF THE MASK, AND STAR WARS III: REVENGE OF THE SITH.

His most recent feature films are AROUND THE BLOCK directed by Sarah Spillane and starring Christina Ricci, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013; UNINDIAN, an Australian/Indian coproduction directed by Anupam Sharma; and DANCE ACADEMY: THE MOVIE, which recently won Martin the ACS Gold Award for Best Feature - Cinema.

Martin won two ACS Awards and the 2015 AACTA Award for Best Cinematography in Television for THE BROKEN SHORE for Essential Media and the ABC. In the past year, Martin has shot the television series Jack IRISH, children’s series TA DA! and US television series DIFFICULT PEOPLE for Hulu. He most recently wrapped on telemovie RIOT for Werner Film Productions, and a documentary in South Africa. He is currently in production on the fifth series of RAKE, and is attached to shoot Rachel Griffith’s feature directing debut, RIDE LIKE A GIRL.

SCOTT MUNRO – Cinematographer

Scott Munro began his career in movies as a cinema projection assistant working in picture houses in New Zealand, before attending film school.

After graduating with the AVID award, he worked his way though the ranks of Television New Zealand and was awarded the Derek McKendry Young Cameraman Award. He left New Zealand and began his career as a cameraman based in London for 15 years. He worked for many international clients on prominent broadcast and primetime shows, around the globe. In 2016 and 2017, he travelled to Florence every month for a year to make the sports feature documentary film CALCIO STORICO, THE BLOOD OF FLORENCE for David’s Flute Entertainment.

Documentary work has been a constant in his career, and he has contributed to many award winning productions. In 2016 he won an EMMY Award for his work for CBS 60 Minutes.

He currently lives in France.

HELENA CZAJKA – Composer

Award-winning composer Helena Czajka blends classical training with sound design and electronic textures to form a distinctive style that can be heard across her TV, film, documentary and commercial projects. After graduating from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music with First Class Honours in Composition, Helena moved to Tokyo to work as an Orchestrator for renowned film composer Yoshihiro Ike.

Since returning to Australia in 2013, she has composed the music for productions including the Walkley Award-winning documentary series REVELATION (ABC, In Films), the Emmy and AACTA award-winning children’s show BLUEY (ABC Kids/BBC Studios, Ludo Studio), and the AACTA Award-winning TV series AUSTRALIAN SURVIVOR (Network Ten, EndemolShine).

Helena's composing achievements include making history in 2021 with the BLUEY: THE ALBUM becoming the first ever children's album to top the ARIA music charts, winning Best Original Score at the 2020 Florence Film Awards for her score for REVELATION, and receiving an APRA Screen Music Award nomination for Best Music in a TV Series for her work on AUSTRALIAN SURVIVOR.

Premiering in 2021 are four feature documentaries Helena composed the music for: BLIND AMBITION (Third Man Films, Madman Entertainment), UNSEEN SKIES (In Films, Participant Media), OFF COUNTRY (Good Thing Productions, Madman Entertainment) and THE DEPARTMENT (SBS, Shark Island Productions), as well as the drama series TAILINGS (SBS). Previous documentary work includes the series THE QUEEN AND ZAK GRIEVE (Foxtel’s Crime and Investigation Channel, In Films), MAKING MURIEL (ABC, In Films) and LOOK ME IN THE EYE (SBS, EndemolShine).

Her feature film work includes scoring CHASING COMETS (Jason Stevens Productions) and the international film festival hit BEAST (Boulevard Film, Madman Entertainment) in 2015.

ANDREW CAILLARD MW – Associate Producer

Andrew Caillard is a consultant Master of Wine and has worked with many leading wine businesses in Australia, Europe and Asia over his 43-year career. He is best known as a co-founder of Australian wine auction house Langton’s and as an advocate for Australia’s fine wine agenda. Educated at Worth School in the UK, he went on to study wine in Bordeaux, Germany and Roseworthy Agricultural College in South Australia.

In 1993 he passed the notoriously difficult Master of Wine examination winning the Madame Lily Bollinger medal for excellence in wine tasting. For 19 years Andrew Caillard was a specialist wine auctioneer and director of Langton’s (in association with Christie’s). After the acquisition of the business in 2009, Caillard moved across to supermarket group Woolworths. He continues to consult as an expert advisor to buying and winemaking teams at Endeavour Drinks. This includes sourcing and new product development of both Australian and imported brands. Caillard is also a reviewer and author.

In 2020 he was voted “Best Australian Wine Critic of the World”. He contributes to Australian Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine, tastingbook.com and other publications particularly Academie du Vin Library’s In Vino Veritas and On Bordeaux. Andrew Caillard is the author of several reference editions including Penfold’s “The Rewards of Patience” (editions III to VIII), Marqués de Riscal – A Travel Through Time, Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine (editions I to VII) and Imagining Coonawarra – The story of Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon. He has also co-authored student reference books Australian Wine and A Taste of the World of Wine with academic scientists Dr Patrick Iland, Dr Peter Dry and Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago. A History of Australian Wine and a book about the Mornington Peninsula’s early vignerons are also in the pipeline.

Andrew Caillard is also an associate producer of the AACTA award-winning feature documentary RED OBSESSION and the feature documentary BLIND AMBITION. Andrew Caillard’s career is linked strongly to the cause of Australian wine, education and trade with Europe (Bordeaux particularly) and China. He has been involved in many forums, charity wine auctions and wine shows around the world. In 2011 Andrew Caillard received the “Australian Wine Communicator of the Year Award” and was inducted as a 'Baron of the Barossa.'