The Michigan Beer Film is, obviously, about beer in Michigan.
But it’s also about second chances — a lot of them. It’s about a second chance for Kevin Romeo, the film’s creator; it’s about a second chance for dozens of beer makers and beer entrepreneurs; it’s even about a second chance for an entire state.
“I look at my life as a cool second start” — that’s where Romeo begins the story of this film. Romeo is co-founder, owner and president of Kalamazoo’s Rhino Media. His daily labor in photography and video production is the creative, artistic kind of work he was always good at — but not the kind of work he’s always done.
Romeo studied business in college, and then “fuddled around for a while.” He worked empty jobs. His first marriage fell apart. He wasn’t happy or fulfilled. That’s all history now, but it’s still relevant, and not just as a biographical backdrop for the filmmaker. The narrative of “second starts” resonates among most of the subjects of the documentary as well.
Romeo’s filming, which has taken him across the state and will take him to the Upper Peninsula before he is done, has uncovered several brewers who didn’t set out to be brewers the first time around. He says many of them were unhappily working in call centers, car dealerships or banks until some happy accident — like a lay-off or an injury — forced them to try something else. Now they’re brewers, living out their passion for beer in a very appreciative state.
Romeo sees these triumphant second chances as representative of Michigan, too. He hopes that microbrewing can make up for the decline of the auto industry, and he wants outsiders to know that Michigan isn’t squandering this opportunity. “I want people to say, ‘These people are gettin’ down to business. They’re rolling their sleeves up,’” he says.
Despite his obvious admiration for the industry, Romeo is determined not to manipulate the story, and he’s asking hard questions: “Is anyone selling out? Is anyone growing too quickly or growing for the wrong reasons?”
But primarily, Romeo is looking for good things: “Who’s doing something as a labor of love? Who’s succeeding because of their passion? Who’s exploding economically and artistically?”
The Michigan Beer Film is Romeo’s own labor of love. That means it’s self-funded and mostly an after-hours and weekend project, which in turn means the film is still far from finished. When it is completed — hopefully this summer — Romeo plans on something like a book tour: Viewings at individual breweries, many of which have already approached him.
Romeo isn’t sure yet how to make a profit off of the film or even how much he needs to recoup to make a profit, but he’s not worried. “Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn,” Romeo says. For now, he’s focused on polishing his craft through his first documentary.
In any case, Romeo feels no need to “win;” the real triumph already belongs to beer makers and his home state. His film will be a success, he says, if his audience leaves feeling as if they’ve just watched a heroic action movie. Romeo’s film may be a documentary, but he’s aiming more for Lord of the Rings than Super Size Me.
Photos courtesy of Kevin Romeo and The Michigan Beer Film.