Brandon Loper, Alabama native, never really liked coffee. At least not until college, when he zealously took up the drink and committed himself to increased caffeinated levels ever since. It wasn’t the taste of coffee, however, or its nutty aroma or even its steam-shrouded aura that immediately converted the budding filmmaker. It was a girl.
"I liked a girl who drank coffee, and we drank coffee with hazelnut creamer, and we were very happy," Loper recalls. The couple were soon married and would have lived on in Coffee-Mated bliss had they not moved to San Francisco in 2006. The city served as the backdrop for Loper's first short film, Unwieldy Beast, a creation tale of a bicycle-piano hybrid dubbed "St. Frankenstein," and it also served superior coffee, nearly on every corner, each shop with its own curated blends, roasts, and flavors.
Non-dairy creamer is now dead to Loper, and coffee is the star of his debut feature film, an exquisitely shot documentary soon to be completed. So far, he’s released a trailer for the project, A Film About Coffee, in which you can see snippets of his yearlong search for great coffee.
Loper's doc follows the local production of coffee through to its global consumption. (He tracked his voyage on the film's blog.) He travels to harvests in Rwanda and bean fields in Honduras, speaking to farmers and buyers about the crop’s economic and environmental implications. As the narrative progresses, he hunts down niche coffee shops from Tokyo to Portland, Seattle to New York. He drops in on artisanal cafes to investigate how each prepares its own special brews, and of course, to sample a cup.
The focus might oscillate between various technicalities of the craft (steeped vs. pour-over, burr-grind vs. roller, etc.), but the photography is consistently gorgeous. Loper, who's represented by San Francisco production house Avocados and Coconuts, had recourse to the company’s RED Epic camera. It’s similar to the one used for Jiro Dreams of Sushi, another edible doc rich with luscious cinematography. Loper’s lens, too, takes the time to linger on its subjects, hovering patiently above a barista streaking the top of a cappuccino or poised at the edge of a table waiting for a customer to take his first sip.
Loper explains that the footage is a translation of coffee's peculiar aura into its visual equivalent. "There's a quote by Les Paul that says ‘people hear with their eyes,’ and that was something that rang true with me when thinking about how to photograph this film." In addition to framing "the detail and beauty" of the world of coffee in just the right way, the filmmaker also wanted to infuse the story with his own "very powerful" experiences with coffee, including, of course, that first San Francisco epiphany. He remembers exactly when and where it was (Blue Bottle) and more important, what he was drinking (Misty Valley from Ethiopia).
The buzz from that cup was enough to send him around the world in pursuit of his newfound obsession. Despite its title, the film, Loper assures, "is more than a standard thesis film on one topic." Indeed, it's largely about the people—"the farmers, baristas, roasters, and green coffee buyers"—who have devoted their lives (and livelihoods) to making and sourcing the best coffee they can.
As Loper says, coffee might be a "very broad" subject, but at its core are the obsessives, the laborers, and yes, the aesthetes who quite literally live off the stuff. At the same time, Loper’s story is a gift to coffee drinkers everywhere, whatever their preference may be. "What I've realized is that no matter the quality of your cup, people who love coffee, love it," Loper says. "Coffee is about people, and people are what I'm interested in ultimately."
At the moment, Loper is readying the film for festival circuits, namely Sundance, and plans to host screenings thereafter. Follow his progress here.