Blind Ambition

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Blind Ambition
"Co-directors Robert Coe and Warwick Ross use their simple premise to explore wider subjects."

It’s never easy to build a new life in a strange country after being forced to flee one’s home, and the majority of the estimated 1.5 million Zimbabweans who made their home in South Africa after escaping economic and political turmoil had no money left to help them do so. What’s more, they found themselves in a place where their skin colour suddenly counted against them, making it practically impossible for them to compete with white people for the kind of middle class jobs they might have had before. To go from that situation to competing in a prestigious international competition dominated by people from massively privileged backgrounds sounds practically impossible, but Joseph Dhafana, Marlvin Geese, Tinashe Nyamudoka and Pardon Taguzu made it happen, and this documentary tells their story.

The competition in question was the World Wine Tasting Championships, and early in the film we get a startling confession: “A few years ago, none of us had ever tasted wine before.” They came to it through various routes, expressing curiosity about the unfamiliar drink, impressing others with their ability to discern its complexity. Mentors recognised rare talent, and Team Zimbabwe was born. The film neatly summarises what wine tasting involves without getting too technical, explaining the need to identify things like the species of grape used, the vintage, and the country where it was made, all factors indicated by chemical characteristics which interact with each other.

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The difficulty Team Zimbabwe faced here was simple: they hadn’t tasted enough wines. Not only did they lack other teams’ years of experience, but they didn’t have the budget to afford some of the varieties they really needed to learn from. The film demonstrates how crowdfunding came to the rescue, and how getting their story into the media won them support from wine lovers around the world. As one expert explains, they brough the fun back into the experience, reminding those at the top of the heap why they had fallen in love with wine in the first place.

Co-directors Robert Coe and Warwick Ross use their simple premise to explore wider subjects. The team members see the world for the first time and connect with people from very different backgrounds, changing perspectives on both sides. Pardon, meanwhile, takes the opportunity to talk about his deep love for the country he left behind, remembering its distinctive fruits and flavours and the view from his favourite spot, turning the film into a love song for a place which, in recent years, has enjoyed very little positive representation.

There are heartaches along the way. This isn’t a fairy tale, and even when they’re enjoying the best of what Europe has to offer, the men face a grim reminder of the problems facing their communities back home. With awesome stories of post-competition success revealed at the very end, however, it finishes on a high note, demonstrating what passionate, hard working people can achieve when they get real opportunities, now matter how painful the weight of their past.

Reviewed on: 04 Mar 2022
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The story of four Zimbabwean men who form their country’s first Wine Tasting Olympics team and the mission that drives them to compete.

Director: Robert Coe, Warwick Ross

Writer: Robert Coe, Warwick Ross

Year: 2021

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: Australia


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