MENDOCINO FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! The story behind the story often elevates a documentary above the mere examination of its subject. Warwick Ross and Robert Coe’s documentary, Blind Ambition, is about the famous The World Wine Blind Tasting Championships, which are the Olympics of the wine world. But, it’s the story behind the story that matters.
Blind Ambition tells the story of four men, Joseph, Tinashe, Marlvin, and Pardon, who comprise Zimbabwe’s inaugural wine tasting team. Their story is an incredibly complicated and heartbreaking one. Thanks to political corruption, Zimbabwe experienced its most severe financial crisis leaving many of its citizens without work, money, or food. The turmoil led to a mass exodus, which turned into a deadly immigration crisis in South Africa.
So, what does this have to do with wine? All four men found themselves begging for work, and though their refugee stories are different, Joseph, Tinashe, Marlvin, and Pardon found each other through the love of wine. The fact that they got jobs in high-end restaurants and developed a passion for becoming a sommelier created a small brotherhood.
Half of the film tells their story of luck and prayer, as each found a way to rise out of their respective refugee camps and the difficulty of finding work competing with other South Africans. The other half of Blind Ambition goes into the actual sport of wine tasting itself. The Zimbabwe team is new to the competition, lives in a region of the world with a limited variety of international wines, and is hampered by the high cost of the training and travel. As such, the team’s journey provides an excellent introduction for audiences to understand the intricacies of wine tasting.
“…Joseph, Tinashe, Marlvin, and Pardon found each other through the love of wine.”
The competition is simple. Teams from around the world gather to blind taste twelve bottles of wine. The team then discusses each bottle’s type of wine, country of origin, brand, and vintage (year). Whoever gets the most correct guesses wins. Of course, this highly detailed information must be derived from the wine’s taste and appearance in the glass.
Most of the narrative centers on the team’s training. Joseph, Tinashe, Marlvin, and Pardon arrive several days before the competition and tour as many wineries as possible. They hire a Frenchman, Denis Garret, one of France’s greatest sommeliers, and he takes them on a wacky adventure of sorts, which often conflicts with the South African team and their coach.
Blind Ambition has plenty of drama to make a wine tasting engaging for even the most devout tea-totaller. Though all four members no longer live in economically ravaged Zimbabwe, they all deeply love their country and proudly represent their homeland. They also train hard, particularly during their five-day cram session in Europe. However, their coach, Denis, proves to be quite a handful as he declares himself an “irritating” person.
Any sports fan loves competition because of the drama (alongside the heights of athleticism), and Blind Ambition masterfully captures that. The Zimbabwe team’s story as a band of refugees is just the sympathy we need to root for these underdogs. The final outcome of the competition is remarkable.
"…it's the story behind the story that matters."