Despite its theme of economic disparity, the brilliance of the film is that it chooses not to focus on the economics. Those lessons are taken care of in short segments with the use of clever and clear animations. (They inspired in me visions of Monty Python’s genius Terry Gilliam being set loose with a stack of 1950s LIFE magazines and a pair of scissors.) Baron’s message is conveyed by the stories of Sam Calgagione (founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery) and Rhonda Kallman (founder and CEO of New Century Brewing Co., and co-founder of The Boston Beer Company, makers of Samuel Adams), passionate entrepreneurs who she follows as they sacrifice and toil almost quixotically toward their goals of brewing success. In their stories lies Baron’s best argument for why passionate entrepreneurs should be encouraged, not have their efforts hampered by antiquated hedgerow regulations.
Baron’s treatment of Kallman as she tirelessly markets her “Moonshot” caffeinated beer to tavern-goers, store owners, and anyone who will listen is adept at capturing the particular tone of melancholy recognizable to anyone who has participating in a failing venture that they were desperately passionate about. In particular, footage of Kallman comforting her crying daughter before leaving home for a late-night tour of bars where she would undoubtedly face additional rejection was heart-rending. Juxtaposed against news clips announcing Anheuser-Busch’s intent to produce a caffeinated beer, one can almost hear her dreams being crushed under the trotting hooves of eight Clydesdales.
An incredible bonus to the 89-minute documentary feature is a nearly half-hour panel interview moderated by writer and economist Ben Stein with the filmmaker and several familiar faces from the film, including Calgagione and Kallman. The discussion that ensues provides further information about the topic, and was extremely entertaining in its own right.
Above all, Anat Baron’s Beer Wars is a film that cuts through the glaring neon of Big Beer to prompt viewers to consider whether a system of regulations that benefits big business and discourages people from pursuing their dreams is such a good system to have. Films that show the human cost of government over-regulation are rare, films that do it as well as Baron’s work are rarer still.