Sky Pinnick jokes that until recently his knowledge of wine stopped at red or white, bottle or box.
The 33-year-old frontman of Bend's Rage Films and Rage Productions says he's traditionally been more drawn to beer, especially after a day doing what he's perhaps best known for: filming some of the world's best skiers flying off cliffs, kickers and other gut-churning drops.
That changed, however, over the last 18 months. A new acquaintance had pitched a documentary idea on the emergence of malbec wine, a red varietal largely produced in Argentina.
It struck a chord. Pinnick, who also owns downtown's Velvet bar, said patrons had increasingly been asking at the bar for malbec.
“What's really, really cool is it's right here, right now,” he said. “I raced to get the film done.”
On Friday, Pinnick's work, a feature-length documentary called “Boom Varietal: The Rise of Argentine Malbec,” will debut at BendFilm. While the majority of its scenes take place far from Oregon, local residents played major roles in bringing it to the screen.
“This is made by Bend filmmakers,” Pinnick said.
The film is one of several in this year's festival with Central Oregon connections, said BendFilm Artistic Director Orit Schwartz. And it's part of a continuation of the festival spotlighting local talent.
Pinnick said he sees it as a film that will make viewers think, yet it will go down as smooth as wine.
“It doesn't feel like homework,” he said.
A booming wine
The acquaintance that suggested the idea was Kirk Ermisch, owner of the Bend-based distributing company Southern Wine Group.
Ermisch specializes in importing South American wines and has longtime connections to the region. In 1998, Kendall Jackson hired him to build a winery in Argentina. It was one of the first American forays into the country, which exported little wine at the time.
While malbec originated in France, the varietal came to South America more than a century ago and has done well in its climate. Today, Ermisch said, malbec is the fastest growing segment of the wine market in the U.S., although it makes up just 3 percent of the market.
And with the surge in interest, the Mendoza region of Argentina is booming.
“Mendoza is like Bend 2003,” Pinnick said. “It's buzzing. Everyone is so optimistic. Everyone's building, everyone has money.”
The reason, Ermisch said, is malbec is an enjoyable drink at a reasonable price. He said the quality is high for what one can buy for less than $15.
Pinnick added that as Generation X and Generation Y grow interested in wine, they don't feel loyalties to certain varietals and are eager to try new things.
The film captures a romantic scene in Mendoza — fields of green vines, rugged mountains in the distance, Spanish-style estates. He interviews rugged men whose grandfathers made wine and now they are carrying on the tradition.
Yet Pinnick wanted to show a complete picture in the documentary as well.
He includes a New York sommelier who dismisses malbec as a fad wine that largely has done well because it's easier to say than, for instance, Gewurztraminer.
He also meets two Canadians who bought an Argentine parcel with romantic dreams of vineyards, only to get dust and weeds in return.
“It will be interesting in two or three years to take a look back,” Pinnick said.
The future for malbec
Ermisch has seen promising wines become victims of trends.
First merlot blossomed and wilted. Then in a larger fashion came the boom and bust of Australian shiraz.
Ermisch said the simplified explanation of why shiraz surged and then lost market share is that so many vintners came on the scene that they flooded the market. The mass Australian producer Yellow Tail also gave consumers the notion that shiraz should be cheap.
“Talk to a Washington state shiraz producer,” Ermisch said. “They're hurting.”
After decades of watching cycles within the wine industry, Ermisch felt there was a story in chronicling the rise of malbec and discussing whether it would maintain its newfound interest. He said he sought Pinnick out to pitch the idea.
Ermisch not only served as executive producer on the film, but he also helped the film crew navigate Argentina, found people willing to talk and assisted in the interviews. The film is presented by Southern Wine Group.
Still, he said he truly wanted to make an objective film.
“I've tried to make a film that isn't completely self-serving,” he said.
“In my world,” he continued, “it sets up a good, constructive dialogue that I don't think has been done before.”
He also sees a parallel in Argentina to Bend's own downturn, as well as the nation's.
“The discussion of boom-bust is an important thing to talk about for the entire American economy,” he said. “It would be useful to have a discussion that's more meaningful than, ‘Oh no, what do we do now?'”
The issues that might threaten Argentine malbec, Ermisch said, are likely different than those that damaged Australian shiraz. For Argentina, he identified high inflation and an interventionist government as the factors most apt to damage its wine industry.
There's also reason to believe shoppers will regularly find malbec on the shelves from here on out.
Whenever Pinnick tells someone he just made a film about malbec, he said the light bulb illuminates.
“People are just fascinated by it,” he said.
There are other works in this year's BendFilm Festival with local links.
The 12-minute short documentary “Small Town Doc” focuses on the closure of the La Pine clinic of Dr. Ben Chaffey and his wife, Winifred Conley. Although they had what would seemingly be an adequate number of patients, they couldn't make it financially because the majority of them were on Medicare, which didn't pay enough to cover the clinic's costs.
“Small Town Doc” director Virginia Williams, who has already been to BendFilm with a 2006 feature-length documentary, doesn't live in Central Oregon but has another connection: The subjects are her mother and stepfather.
Williams said she started filming to support them as they prepared to close their clinic after 14 years.
“The goal was just to film them for the last week, to honor them,” she said.
Then she realized the clinic is a microcosm for what rural clinics across the country are facing.
“It's not even exaggerated,” she said. “My mom was calling around to clinics trying to place people and she couldn't find anyone to take them.”
Given the lack of doctors willing to take new Medicare patients, many of Chaffey's patients have told Williams they now use the hospital emergency room as their first option.
Other shorts with local connections range from documentaries to fiction.
In one short, “Two Friendly Ghosts,” the actor who plays one of the main characters, James Dean's ghost, is from Bend. Cole Carson will be at BendFilm to support the film, about the meeting in the afterlife of Dean and the man he collided with in his fatal car crash.
Another short in the 2011 festival was put together by the students who won BendFilm's first Future Filmmakers award for high school students. “Allegiance,” by Ian Dalesky and Patrick Dawn, is a fiction piece in which the Nazis won and now dictate how history is taught in the classroom.
Bend filmmaker Jesse Locke is premiering the short “Relationships” at BendFilm. It follows the intersection of four characters: a husband and wife, a sexy neighbor and a hired killer.
And in the short “Free World,” Bend filmmaker Ashley Michael Karitis follows an interfaith delegation to Hiroshima and Nagasaki as they promote a nuclear weapon-free world.
Three of the shorts, “Allegiance,” “Free World,” and “Relationships,” will be screened together in what's being dubbed a Local Block at 10 a.m. Friday at McMenamins.
— Heidi Hagemeier
Tickets and passes
Individual tickets for BendFilm cost $11 in advance or $12 at the door. Tickets are available in advance either by going online to www.bendfilm.org or by stopping by The Hub, the information center and hangout for the festival. They are available both online and at The Hub up to 60 minutes before the show.
Passes are also still available online and will be for sale at The Hub for the duration of the festival. A Full Film Pass costs $110 and provides access to all films, as well as a jump to the front of the line for seats. The Full Festival Pass costs $175 and provides not only the benefits of the Full Film Pass, but also a pass to all the parties and the awards ceremony.
For those who want to try on the fly, tickets might be available at the door right before screenings. They're sold on a first come, first served basis.
The Hub is located in the Liberty Theater, 849 N.W. Wall St. in downtown Bend. Its hours are noon to 8 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday.
For more information about screening times and locations, check out the BendFilm website.
Contact: www.bendfilm.org or 541-388-3378.
BendFilm is seeking volunteers for its four-day festival and now has an online system to make signing up easy.
The Online Scheduling Shiftboard allows people to express what type of duties they would like to handle, from ushering to staffing parties to selling merchandise. Once registered, volunteers will be sent a welcome letter with instructions on how to pick shifts.
Volunteers who work at least two volunteer shifts will get a BendFilm T-shirt. They also get into the films for free, although they will be seated after passholders, ticket holders and customers who buy at the door have entered the theater.
There are still many shifts available for all the venues and time slots. BendFilm particularly needs volunteers with their Oregon Liquor Control Commission servers permits for the Block Party from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday. These volunteers will not be required to serve alcohol, but will be alcohol monitors stationed throughout the venue.
Contact: www.shiftboard.com/bendfilm or 541-388-3378.