Last Monday, Nick, Ariel and Makenzie sat down in the theater with Director Nick Kovacic for a special episode of Behind the Marquee to discuss the Academy Awards and Nick’s film Agave: The Spirit of the Nation. Unfortunately the audio was damaged and the episode will be lost forever, but below you can read the transcription of our discussion with Nick about his film. Enjoy!

Nick A.

Thank you so much for being here. Is this your first time in Ann Arbor?

Nick K.

Yeah, actually this is my first time in Michigan.

Nick A.

Oh yeah? And you’re from Baltimore?

Nick K.

Yeah, that’s right. Baltimore.

Nick A.

So you’re here for Agave: The Spirit of a Nation. How long were you working on this film?

Nick K.

We started this film in 2017, premiered it at South by Southwest 2018. So from start to finish, it was about a year.

Nick A.

Okay, your previous films, Brewmore and Decanted… So Brewmore is about Brewing in Baltimore

Nick K.

Yeah, that’s right.

Nick A.

And Decanted is about Napa Valley wine.,,

Nick K.

Yeah.

Nick A.

Is there something in particular about the drinking culture that interests you? Because this is like your trilogy.

Nick K.

Yeah, we finished making Decanted and we thought about making one more about a spirit. So we thought if we’re going to make it, it’s going to be like the holy trinity. That’s going to be spirits, beer and wine. We thought, well, the most interesting spirits to us are the Agave spirits. Because a lot of spirits have such a deep connection to the culture around the world, and the history behind them. And to go into Mexico and discover it was just an absolutely unique experience and itself was amazing. The first time that you meet the families that are buying the product, that have been making these products for centuries, what they want to do is welcome you into their house. And, you know, make you comfortable, make sure everything’s fine and it’s just so hospitable.

In the process of doing it too. There’s the industrial level and then there’s the ancestral level, where one is very very science based and chemical engineers are making it, all the way to “this is the way that my grandfather showed my father how to do it, and my father showed me how to do it so that’s the way that I do it.” It’s almost like inherited science. So, I guess I just ranted off there. But that was one of the things I thought that was just so interesting because the story is so deep and so rich.

We also wanted to do it because it was a challenge for us because being outsiders, being gringos going to Mexico and making a film, where a lot of people are probably going to see and judge you right away, like, “what is this film going to be about?”

We wanted to try and make something that’s true and authentic and not commercialized. So I guess it was a natural progression for us and making these three films, that we wanted to be able to make these films that use this product as a vessel to transport you, to meet these people and learn about a culture and it kind of just opened up. You know, conversations that this time was about the culture and people behind the products in Mexico.

Nick A.

Where have you you traveled with this film so far?

Nick K.

Well, it premiered at South by Southwest and then in 2018 in Guadalajara, and it’s been the opening and closing night film back and forth in a number of film festivals in the United States. It played in Canada and across Europe. We were talking earlier about the translations… I remember being at the Warsaw International Film Festival and the fantastic audiences. They’re so engaged, they’re so excited to learn about different cultures. So then, when the films playing, there’s the subtitles because the film is something like 70% Spanish, 30% English, so you have the subtitles at the bottom of the screen. And then below there’ll be Polish subtitles. And then when you do the Q&A afterwards, it’s the same. It’s in Polish to English, back from English to Polish…There’s that lost in translation moment, all the time. You can stay really really highly concentrated on what someone’s saying, but completely lose track of what you’re talking about.

Ariel

Oh, absolutely

Nick K.

We’ve had the pleasure of being able to bring it to almost every continent in the world.

Nick A.

That’s amazing. How do audience reactions differ from Guadalajara, where they are more familiar with the culture, or with lifestyle, to Poland? What are the varying reactions that you’ve gotten from the film?

Nick K.

Actually that’s a really good example right there in itself because in Poland, they have Vodka. I guess it could be argued that the Polish actually invented Vodka. But they take a lot of pride in the Vodka that they have there. I’ve haven’t tried all of it, there’s a lot of different kinds there. So, they actually compare it. It’s almost a mirror of themselves, of the culture, because they see their own families reflected in what they see on the screen. And so they can relate to it from that.

In Guadalajara, in different parts of Mexico, it gives them a great pride and sense of identity, even if they’re not fully familiar with all the different products, because how products are advertised, marketed, in Mexico is completely different than ours here. So you would still understand that maybe somebody in their family has been a part of this industry before, or the family is in some part of this industry, or they can relate to it as their own family works with a different type of craft. A lot of people relate it to like an artwork.

Nick A.

So, how did you come away different from Agave or Decanted – Are you a connoisseur of fine wine now or would you call yourself a beer snob or tequila snob? Did your appreciation change when you finished making these?

Nick K.

It’s funny because we’d always call ourselves junior wine connoisseurs. We knew a little bit of this or that. I don’t really know…I’m no Somm. Actually, my takeaway in the end is: “Jeez, I wish I had just started a brewery” or “I wish I had started like I was like ahead of the curve and doing this or that or whatever.”

The Brewmore film, I wanted to do it because I wanted to find a topic of a documentary that I liked and was approachable and it was about the place where I live. And I wanted to make something that was a positive image about Baltimore.

You guys, being so close to Detroit, it’s the same thing. You probably have a deep love and revere for the soul of the city, and the area, but the external view of it is so negative. It’s the same thing with Baltimore, it’s always so negative. So if I could find something that, that was like approachable, that I could do over the course of the year or two, and I could learn something from this time and history involved in it. That’s how I kind of did the first one, and it just snowballed.

Ariel

What’s your next film going to be about?

Nick K.

There’s a couple different films that we’re working on right now. Actually, my partner and I, Matt, we’re working on a narrative, and we’re working on the script for that. It’s going to be a thriller and we’re going to shoot it in Maryland. And then I also have another documentary that I’m working on that’s about childhood rare diseases. That’s a feature length documentary. And then I help produce and edit other films. I had a film that just won Slamdance two weeks ago called Bastard’s Road. It won the Audience Award at Slamdance for Best Documentary and it won Best Documentary at Santa Barbara International Film Festival the week before. It’s about a Marine Corps Veteran, Jonathan Hancock. And after six tours in Iraq, returns back home, rotates back into the real world. Things don’t really go so well for him. He decides that the only thing that’s left for him to do to resolve himself and make amends with himself is that he’s going to walk across this country, United States, and visit Gold Star families and service members that he had served with. It really becomes a completely selfless act.

So, Bastards Road is directed by Brian Morrison and written by Mark Stafford and I co-produced and I consulted on it and Brian shot and edited it too.

Nick A.

Oh, I’m very interesting excited to see that one. You were talking about depictions of Baltimore, I’m curious if you saw the film Rat Film. The documentary

Nick K.

Oh yeah, yeah. My partner Matt did the color grading on that film.

Nick A.

Oh, did he really?

Nick K.

So I do a lot of color grading too. Matt Riggieri, the Co-Director of Agave, my business partner, is a fantastic colorist as well.

Makenzie

We’re big fans of Rat Film here.

Nick A.

Yeah, we played it at our film festival a couple of years ago and it was definitely one of the favorites of the staff that year.

Makenizie

Oh yeah.

Nick A.

I just… I loved how hypnotic it was. You get sucked right into that into the vision.

Nick K.

I didn’t really have anything to do with the film, I was just at the office when they were working it. I just remember it was the second to last day of Agave. And I was watching that film, we were all hanging out in the hotel room watching it… Nothing exciting, I just remember watching it..

[Laughter from the room]

Nick A.

Where can people find you? Do you want to plug anything?

Nick K.

Yeah, Instagram @DigitalCave and you can find more information about Agave: The Spirit of a Nation at Agave.film

Nick A.

Perfect.

Nick K.

Thanks.

Nick A.

Thank you so much

Ariel and Makenzie

Thank you