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Food - Q&A with filmmaker James Martin

The New Orleans Sazerac director is headed to the Cannes Film Festival

Monday May 9, 2016 04:00 am EDT

James Martin is the director of The New Orleans Sazerac, a documentary short about the legendary classic cocktail. The film was invited to be a part of numerous festivals this year, such as the Chattanooga and the Newport Beach film festivals. The short received local love, too, winning both the Seed&Spark Award and the WonderRoot Audience Choice Award at the 2016 Atlanta Film Festival. Now Martin and Co. are preparing for an even more prestigious milestone across the pond. The New Orleans Sazerac is one of the 23 productions from up-and-coming filmmakers that will be screened during the American Pavillion’s Emerging Filmmaker Showcase at the Cannes Film Festival (May 11-22). A transplant from Ohio, Martin has lived in Atlanta for six years. We recently caught up with the busy filmmaker to talk about the film’s history, all the accolades, and more.


How did you get from Ohio to Atlanta?

I came down as a graphic designer. Along the way, I fell in love with the idea of neighborhoods in Atlanta. I wanted to learn more about bartenders in those neighborhood bars. This spawned my blog, The Sipologist, where I talk about the history of cocktails. It was created as a personal project around the same time I was producing short films my partner Jen West wrote. Whenever we traveled to festivals we always visited several cocktail establishments.

Do you have any favorite drinking spots in town?

I like talking about pockets of neighborhoods rather than singling out one (establishment). It’s Inman Park now with the food halls: Krog Street Market and Ponce City Market. Being able to go to four places within 100 yards is a great way to get a taste of the different cocktails in a city.

So, how did Sazerac come about?

I was producing one of Jen’s narratives. We had worked together on a few short films and videos. (Jen directed St. Paul and the Broken Bones’ “Call Me” music video.)

I remember the day vividly. We were walking along the Beltline and I thought it might be fun to switch roles with her producing and me directing. We talked more about it. I thought it would be nice to spotlight a cocktail. The Sazerac was my first post on my blog. From there we hit it running. It took a couple of months to develop and research. Our goal was to get everything ready to shoot in July for Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Filming there, we were able to reach out to those who have already done research on the Sazerac. We wanted different people to talk about different components of the drink.

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Can you give us a synopsis?

It’s a film that portrays the expansive history of the drink from the creation of the bitters to appreciation with modern-time bartenders. It’s a 200-year expansive story. We shot it in three and a half days in New Orleans and spotlighted three bartenders.

What was the neatest bit of Sazerac trivia you came across during your research?

The thing that intrigued me the most is that the Sazerac was always a rye whiskey drink. This is contentious. Many people think it was a cognac drink originally, but experts agree that there was a drink with Sazerac brand brandy early on. Cocktail historian David Wondrich said that often people referred to drinks as an establishment’s drink. There was a bar named “Sazerac” in New Orleans. Any evidence of a Sazerac cocktail in the late 1800s was probably any cocktail from there. The first recipe of the Sazerac was published in the early 1900s.

What is your go-to cocktail?

I always have a taste for boozy, stirred cocktails. So I always default to the bartender. It’s funny, though, whenever I ask for a rye, boozy drink, inevitably they say, “Oh, would you like a Sazerac?”

Did you anticipate that the film would be such a success?

No, but I hoped ... because it lends itself to existing beyond film festivals. Maybe food festivals. There could be a life for it outside of what we are used to, as an experience. When we screen it, we try to align ourselves with local bars or restaurants so people will be able to sip on a Sazerac while they watch. They can have a new appreciation for a cocktail that they would not otherwise have. We are going to carry this over to Cannes. They will have a tasting for the screening and the reception. I think that is a very cool element.

Cannes! What ever will you wear?

I guess I have to find a tux. It is very intimidating to enter this world and be on a red carpet. It hasn’t quite soaked in yet. A neat thing — we reached out to Airbnb when we found out we were accepted. They agreed to sponsor us through their Love This? Live There campaign. From May 10 through the 23rd we will be documenting everything on Instagram.

Do you smuggle food into movie theaters?

Laughs Yeah, I do. My favorite is Raisinets mixed with popcorn. If there is enough heads up, I will smuggle them because those theater boxes are never enough with the popcorn.

So what’s next?

We are scheming on how we could turn this into a series. We are trying to figure out what those parameters are ... how we narrow our focus. We are currently putting together a pitch book to start presenting to people.