Beer Land: A Fairy Tale
'Something's Brewin' in Shiner' is all color, no condescension
Mike Woolf is a nice guy, the kind of guy who would helpfully bring along a laptop to an interview so that he may provide visual aids. It's no surprise, then, that Woolf's documentaries are so, well, nice. They've been widely lauded for treating their subjects with respect, as opposed to the snarky mockery of other documentaries.
"If something is embarrassing to someone, you don't want to see that," he says. And, as both of his documentaries will attest, he has no interest in presenting people at anything less than their best. His most recent, "Something's Brewin' in Shiner," out now on DVD, is a perfect example. The locals of the tiny Texas town of Shiner could have easily been portrayed as bumpkin caricatures, but instead we are given a closer, more human view of them, and they emerge as colorful, almost whimsical people. Indeed, sometimes they almost seem to outsmart the filmmakers.
"We'd show up at Howard's [a bar, convenience store, bait shop, and video rental all in one] at the end of the day, and people would know what we'd been doing all day," Woolf remembers. "Everyone knows everything about everything."
The warm, dry humor of the townsfolk permeates the film, from the mayor to the fire chief to the Geezers, a trio of older gentlemen who have made a career out of cheerfully drinking the day away. The people of Shiner take the out-of-town film crew into their trust, returning the respect they've been given with humorous anecdotes and plenty of town history. In "Something's Brewin'," that rarest of documentary goals is achieved: all the local color, none of the condescension.
The focus of the film is on the Spoetzl Brewery's upcoming unveiling of a brand new kind of Shiner. Speculation runs wild, rumors fly, and for the only time in the movie, people seem genuinely stumped. No one is talking! Woolf and company capture the excitement and mystery as the big day looms closer, and, finally, the citizens of Shiner (and the audience) are rewarded with the reveal, which takes place at a large outdoor gathering complete with hay-stacking and inner-tubing. The wonder of it all affected Woolf.
"Those guys like their beer, so we could never be sure how far they'd go."
Still, even the openhearted hospitality of Shiner residents had some limits. "Before we could talk to the Geezers," he says, "we were told 'don't even think about bringing a camera in here until you've got a Shiner.'"
"Something's Brewin' in Shiner" will have its official premiere 7pm, Monday, Aug. 2, at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Downtown (409 Colorado). For more information, call 476-1320, or see www.drafthouse.com and www.somethingsbrewin.com.