SXSW 2017 Filmmaker Profile: Matthew Salleh (Barbecue)


Barbecue is about more than grilling a piece of meat. It’s a ritual performed religiously across the world. For some, it’s a path to salvation. Every culture has a form of barbecue. It is the pride of nations. It brings the world together.

Journeying to 12 countries, with glorious cinematic images in 4K and a rich orchestral score, Matthew Salleh‘s documentary is a symphony of meat and fire told in epic detail.

Barbecue screens at SXSW 2017 as part of its Documentary Spotlight section on March 12, 14, and 18 at various venues around Austin, Texas. Find more information HERE

When did you first realize this was a topic you wants to present at the feature length level? What was the first aspect of what would become ‘Barbecue that occurred to you? (aside from BBQ’s existence, of course)

The subject of barbecue is a very dear to Australians. They are a cultural icon, a way that people can quickly get together and have some beers and catch up with friends. When there’s good weather you go out and have a barbecue.

A couple of years ago my partner Rosie and I were in Texas and met with some barbecue pitmasters in the towns around Austin. We were amazed by not only their passion and dedication to their craft, but also their insights into culture, community, and the world around them. I always believe that passionate people are the key to a great documentary, so we started looking towards creating a global, feature-length project around how the world cooks meat over fire.

We started talking to people from all sorts of backgrounds and cultures. We quickly realized that everyone we spoke to was passionate about describing their culture’s barbecue. Everyone wanted to tell us how their country did it best. It was then that we knew we had the idea for our global film.

Describe the visual strategy behind the film? How did your approach to the film’s photography develop over its production? Was there ever a moment of significant adjustment from your original vision?
The one thing I want to achieve with this documentary was to shoot it in a grand and cinematic style, as a way to elevate everyday lives into something sublime. I have always believed in a portrait style of interview, getting away from the interviewer and the subject sitting in front of a bookshelf, but instead capturing the subject in their environment. These ‘portraits’ that make up the film are the visual anchor. We then capture our subjects in the expanse of their worlds – thus often they are small in the frame with the world around them.

Documentary filmmaking has to be pragmatic – the filmmaker has to work within very strict parameters of what actually exists in real life – but that should never stop us trying to create a strong and coherent visual style. We only had a crew of two on the road, myself doing pictures and Rosie doing sound – and although this limits the kind of cinematography you can do, it’s also a great liberating factor. Choosing to frame a shot or capture a moment was a very contemplative process, without the cacophony of the film set to contend with.

With the film hitting SXSW, describe how you plan to further expand its accessibility to wide audiences?
SXSW is a fantastic place to premiere, returning the film to Central Texas where it all began. We believe that the film has something to say to a wide audience, and we’ll be looking to make the film easily accessible to as many people as possible. The film takes place in twelve countries – its global nature hopefully means that the film will resonate with viewers all around the world.

Can you talk a little about the design aspects of the film’s branding…for example, choice of font, color, and the development of its poster. How do you view the branding strategy of the film?
It’s early days in terms of this, with much more ‘branding’ to come later, but the key to us was to keep things simple and elegant, minimalist and with a focus on the grand and epic.

Finally, if you could describe your film in one word, what would it be?



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