'Barbecue: A Texas Love Story'
"We were not interested in the best barbecue," says Chris Elley, director of Barbecue: A Texas Love Story. "We were interested in the stories around barbecue. ... It's about Texas culture." Elley's documentary covers 3,350 miles of Texas barbecue stories from restaurants, cook-offs, family reunions, fundraisers, and political gatherings. Narrated by former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, it includes an all-star cast of Texan talking heads, including Liz Carpenter, Cactus Pryor, and Kinky Friedman.
Elley even interviewed Dan Rather, who attended college in Huntsville, home to the 35-member New Zion Missionary Baptist Church, otherwise known as the Holy Church of Barbecue, where they sell barbecue to raise funds. The day Elley's crew showed up, one couple there had driven 300 miles from Wichita Falls just for the meal. "It was in Huntsville," Elley says, "that I thought, 'OK, people really take this seriously.'"
From the personal testimonials of wizened barbecue-joint patrons ("When you retire, hit the back roads. Drink you a cold beer. Come to Smitty's. Eat you some barbecue") and owners ("There's no such thing as a sick day") to the barbecue legends of LBJ's presidency, Elley and his crew's mission to leave no dirt road unexplored left them with 100-plus hours of footage. The simmered-down version we get to see includes Barbie, a spunky blond firefighter who rides the fastest lawnmower in the world and helps raise funds for her fire department through barbecues, and Double Trouble's Chris Layton, who, while on tour in New York, had Austin's Sam's on East 12th FedEx the band some authentic Texas cuisine. It should be no surprise that barbecue tall tales would find an audience in Texas, where, as Dan Rather explains, "If you want to be marked as an outsider for life and whatever's beyond life just come to Texas and say, 'I can't stand barbecue.'" But the doc has already caught the attention of connoisseurs from California to New York, and the crew has been invited to Washington, D.C., to screen for a group of U.S. congressmen at, what else, a barbecue. Which goes to show, as one loyal barbecue lover puts it, "You go to the right, or you can go to the left, but you always wind up at the barbecue."
Barbecue screens as part of the Lone Star States program at the Convention Center, 3/14, 12:30pm (the world premiere), and the Dobie, 3/16, 12:30pm.