With the “World Blind Wine Tasting Championship” for 2023 having finished this past weekend, it makes for a perfect moment to write up the film, “Blind Ambition” which I recently viewed due to being a jury member for the 2023 edition of the Most Festival in Catalunya.
If you’re not familiar with this film, this is a documentary about the first-ever Zimbabwe blind wine tasting team to compete at this international competition. While based in South Africa, all of the team are originally from Zimbabwe but were economic refugees fleeing the collapse of the ruin that Robert Mugabe had sown.
Tongai Joseph Dhafana, Tinashe Nyamudoka, Marlvin Gwese, and Pardon Tagazu eventually found themselves in the restaurant trade in Cape Town and via that, moving into being wine servers. You can read more of the backstory on their journey as well as the making of the film on Jancis Robinson’s site.
I will fully admit that as soon as word of this came out, I was worried. The reason being that rarely do films of this structure come off well due to the telling being by people who are from the former colonial powers that occupied the film subjects’ lands. There is a tendency for the story to quickly move from one of storytelling to attempting to evoke empathy and inevitably some form of condescension due to ingrained cultural norms that have in absolutely no way been dealt with.
But my fears turned out to be unfounded as Blind Ambition is not just an excellent story, but also an excellent telling of the story by the Australian team from Third Man Films.
Even on paper, it’s clear to see that there was always going to be a great story here, but once they get the four guys on the screen, it really comes to life as each one embodies a segment of the team whether that be the brain, the spirit, the heart, or the energy of the team.
And it’s watching them in action which is the most rewarding as here’s the thing, this is essentially the same film as impossible-to-kill SOMM series, but instead of a bunch of bros one-upping each other, these are black Africans who have restarted their lives and are doing this as it’s something that they love as well as have fun with. It’s the second part that’s always been missing with the SOMM films as in the Blind Ambition group, you simply want to cheer for all of them, not hope to never encounter them in real life.
There’s a large chunk of screen time dedicated to their origins and what it took for them to get to South Africa. The filmmakers even interviewed Joseph’s mother in Zimbabwe to give additional depth. It was a worrying moment in the film as it could have really fallen into old tropes, but they manage to integrate it all very well to give more texture to the film and progress the narrative.
It’s not any kind of spoiler to say that they didn’t win as this happened in 2021, but the ending offers a massive payoff and shows what a leader Joseph is as he deals with their team captain who is, how do the French say… “un fuckwit”. It’s such an excellent twist that I’d almost say that they planned it for the film, but I know so, so many French men of a certain age in wine who are exactly like this.
Sadly I noticed in the most-recent 2023 results that the Zimbabwe team didn’t compete, but they’ve gone a lot of separate directions since the film was shot and I highly recommend watching this to see a special, rewarding moment in the wine world captured on film.