Meat and Greet

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Even though for some of us ignorance is bliss when it comes to the origins of sausage or chorizo, but there’s an appetizing story behind the blue-collar traditions that made this ground-meat menu staple possible. Un Buen Carnicero is a mouthwatering 14-minute documentary about people and meat that casts a spotlight on the cultural sausage made at a classic butcher’s shop in Carrboro, North Carolina. The short film will have its Indianapolis premiere this Thursday, Oct. 15th at Indiana City Brewing Co.

“Food is so sexy. That’s undeniable,” says Victoria Bouloubasis, food writer and director of the film. “If we care about food, we have to embrace and explore everything attached to it.”

As if making a documentary and being a food writer weren't enough, Bouloubasis is currently pursuing an MA in folklore.  - PHOTO BY SARAH GARRAHAN
  • Photo by Sarah Garrahan
  • As if making a documentary and being a food writer weren't enough, Bouloubasis is currently pursuing an MA in folklore.

In Bouloubasis’ first feature for Vittles Films, a company that produces documentaries told through the lens of food, Tolo Martinez represents a complex reality we all live in. “I think it’s easy for our society to simplify the existence of an immigrant with a label -- like immigrant or worker -- without asking more questions, and by simply victimizing one’s story without celebrating the good too,” says Bouloubasis.

Avoiding expected story lines that culminate in a heavy-handed atmosphere of a meat industry exposé or the cookie-cutter tale of immigrants facing turmoil, this documentary shares the sights, sounds and mood of shopping at an independent family-owned meat market.

As people migrate toward the centers of possibility, cities naturally evolve to meet the needs of each generation of residents. Carrboro, North Carolina, had less than 2,000 residents in 1960 when Cliff Collins was growing up. A friend to all carnivores, Collins founded Cliff’s Meat Market in 1972 after selling his truck and tractor. Fast-forward to the present and the city (which is about five miles from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), has seen its own population surpass 20,000, more than 10 percent of which is Latino (more than everyone living in Collins’ boyhood Carrboro).

Simply put, as the butcher shop received more and more requests for cuts of meat from Latinos, Collins needed to hire someone who knew what they were talking about. Enter Martinez, learning ‘country’ English and giving college professors, blue-collar workers and longtime patrons exactly what they want -- and always with a smile. He speaks to the qualities that he thinks make for a good butcher.

Tolo Martinez embodies the change at the heart of Un Buen Carnicero. - COURTESY OF D.L. ANDERSON, VITTLES FILMS.
  • Courtesy of D.L. Anderson, Vittles Films.
  • Tolo Martinez embodies the change at the heart of Un Buen Carnicero.

“Work as if it were your own store. Even if it isn’t, work like you’re the owner,” he says. “And a good butcher is friendly.”

Un Buen Carnicero was one of PBS's picks for its 2015 Online Film Festival. The story reaches beyond North Carolina, because we need more than just food documentaries like Food, Inc (which rightfully creates public outrage). It honors an unpretentious, hard-working small-business owner who has not exploited or feared immigrants, but embraced the chance to grow his store’s operations and his own cultural experiences.

The story resonates with themes about diligently endeavoring toward a goal and succeeding, as did Collins, but the movie is not just a fluffy sugar-coated piece either. The filmmaker finds time to explore Martinez's feelings of being trapped while “merely surviving and hitting that ceiling of systemic oppression.” Bouloubasis says, “I think we can all see a bit of ourselves in each of their stories.”

Life has changed at Cliff’s even since the film came out last year. The store has gone from producing 40 pounds of the homemade chorizo a week, to churning out and selling 100 pounds of it weekly. Tolo will also be featured at the Carolina Meat Conference, an event that celebrates the niche meat resurgence. “He’s going to be showing some really fancy people how to break down pork knuckle!” jokes the film director.

But just as life changes for them -- and the meat market in general -- so do ideas. Bilingual films such as El Buen Carnicero challenge preconceptions and inform us while delighting us with stunning visuals and good stories. The film craftily avoids the patronizing gaze where Martinez might be viewed as a subject of study. As such, the film is subtitled throughout in English during scenes in which Spanish is spoken and subtitled in Spanish in those where English is spoken. This subtle nuance creates an egalitarian platform for all viewers, regardless of whether or not they know both languages.

Cliff Collins modified his family-owned business while embracing the demographic changes within his North Carolina community. - COURTESY OF D.L. ANDERSON, VITTLES FILMS.
  • Courtesy of D.L. Anderson, Vittles Films.
  • Cliff Collins modified his family-owned business while embracing the demographic changes within his North Carolina community.

The writer/director will be personally screening the Indianapolis premiere of the short film at Indiana City Brewing Co Thursday, Oct. 15. The event will be presented by Eñe, Indy’s Spanish-language magazine. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and show will start at 7 p.m.

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