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Hampden filmmaker traces Baltimore's beer history

Brewmore Directed by Nick Kovacic

Screens March 20 at MICA's Brown Center at 7:45 p.m.

Beer and film has never been a wholly intuitive pairing: Most beer movies either tend toward the kegstand-laden Beerfest variety or the drier, more studious Beer Wars type. Local documentary Brewmore identifies as the latter, but for the Baltimore craft-beer set it will likely become essential for its coverage of four of the city's most beloved breweries. For over two years, director Nick Kovacic, of Hampden, and a small band of cameramen used RED cameras to record the Baltimore's rich brewing past as well as its flourishing present on a shoestring budget. City Paper sat down with Kovacic recently to talk about beer and the challenge of engaging an audience without conflict.

City Paper: How did the documentary come about?

Nick Kovacic: [My company, Digital Cave Media,] had just finished a music video for an artist called Bosley, and of all the places to have the premiere, they're going to premiere it on 98 Rock, on the radio. The woman they interviewed right before [Bosley] was Maureen O'Prey. She had just released a book called Brewing in Baltimore, and I thought, This would be a fantastic documentary to make. Nobody's done it. I'll just do it myself. I got in contact with [O'Prey], did a little research, and then I found out that Rob Kasper-he was at The Baltimore Sun-he'd spent five or six years writing a book called Baltimore Beer, and that was coming out in June of 2012. By chance I met Rob at the Brewer's Art, talked to him, he was great. Then I interviewed the two of them. They were instrumental in bringing together the backbone of the movie. Maureen [has such] depth of knowledge and she's so good on camera too. And Rob Kasper has these great stories that are in there. He had a lot more modern history, like post-World War II history. Then all the new breweries-Union Craft, Heavy Seas, Brewer's Art, and Stillwater [Artisanal Ales]-basically bring together the structure of the story.

CP: Did you have a beer background at all when you started this?

NK: No, I didn't. No, not at all.

CP: Were you drinking Boh or were you drinking Sierra Nevada?

NK: [laughs] I was drinking Sierra Nevada. I knew Boh wasn't brewed here anymore. But doing it, my girlfriend and I actually got into homebrewing, and I've been brewing for a year and a half now. I don't think I'm a really good brewer, but I did it mainly because I got more and more interested in it. I think the coolest thing about it is what I'm doing in a 5 1/2-gallon homebrew batch is essentially the same thing you do at a larger commercial brewery. It's just you can physically see it and hold it. It's way more inefficient and takes more time to do, but it's essentially the same thing. That's why I had Jed Jenny [of the Wine Source] do the homebrew in the movie, because it's really quick. I've watched some other beer documentaries, and they're a little bit more in depth with how to [brew], but I figured, here's the overview of how to do it.

CP: Which beer documentaries did you watch?

NK: I watched Beer Wars on Netflix. I watched that and decided I didn't like it at all. I watched Ken Burns' Prohibition; I watched a lot of Ken Burns documentaries when I was making this movie. I watched the Brew Masters movie. I watched some wine movies-Somm, which was really good. A couple other ones that were strictly history ones. How Beer Saved the World, which was a Discovery Channel one. And then the new one is called Crafting a Nation.

CP: I can see that Ken Burns influence.

NK: Yeah, it's like that but with a more modern twist. And we don't go into as much detail. I could have made it a six-part series if I had the money, about all of Maryland. I'm not sure exactly what we're going to do with it. A lot of people want to see it. I'm going to wait for the Maryland Film Festival to give us the thumbs up or the thumbs down. I sent it to the Maryland Film Fest, the American Documentary Film Festival-which it didn't get into, but it's all right-and Sonoma International Film Festival, Hot Docs, and AFI Docs. You put them in there just to see, maybe get out to a wider audience of people who are into it. It's not like a human-struggle story or an overcoming-the-odds documentary.

CP: Yeah, there's the challenge there-so many movies rely on conflict to draw people in, and you don't have that. How do you combat that as a filmmaker?

NK: I think we go on the educational [route]. The conflict is that people want the independent, and they want to have choices, and it's what history parallels. What I wanted to do was make a movie that showed Baltimore in a positive light, that made Baltimore a character in the movie. There's just not a lot of movies that show Baltimore in a positive light. When you're outside of town everyone's like, "Oh yeah, right, Baltimore, The Wire. Is it really like that there?" It'd be cool just to do something that's from the completely other perspective. It was the perfect time to document it too. We got into Union Craft before they even had [tanks]. It was just a big empty space. I remember when I went there and I met Jon [Zerivitz] for the first time, I was expecting to see a brewery. It was just space and that was it. And I went there yesterday and it was jam-packed with cans full of beer and now they're moving into the space next door.

Brewmore screens at MICA's Brown Center March 20. Beers from the Brewer's Art, Union Craft, Heavy Seas, and Stillwater will be served starting at 6 p.m.

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