The true story of Zimbabwe’s first national wine tasting team is the subject of “Blind Ambition,” co-directors Warwick Ross and Robert Coe’s documentary about four refugees (and friends) who escaped tyranny in their homeland and went on to become some of the top sommeliers in South Africa. It’s an inspiring and unlikely story that makes a fascinating subject for a film, and it’s one that wine lovers from novice to expert will especially enjoy.
Tinashe, Marlvin, Joseph and Pardon grew up in rough economic conditions. With their country facing starvation, poverty, and a host of other problems, the four men left their homeland in search of a better life. Little did these strangers know that their paths would eventually cross. Each of the four men ended up in South Africa and were hired to work in restaurants where they all learned they had a passion for and interest in wine. After meeting, they decide to form Zimbabwe’s first national wine tasting team to compete in the World Wine Blind Tasting Championships, an event that’s often referred to as the Olympics of the wine world.
It’s a terrific story that’s fueled by the passion and optimism of its subjects. These men work tirelessly with experts in the field to learn as much as possible about what’s in a bottle. They taste a lot of wine. Their natural curiosity and desire to learn keeps them focused, and it feels good to root for the team when they finally make it to the competition.
While the subject is terrific, the filmmaking is not. Ross and Coe’s direction is clumsy and lacks artistry, and the story is poorly structured. It’s a bit dry at times (pun not really intended here, wine lovers) because the storytelling is so thorough, and Coe and Ross take what feels like a lengthy detour through their subjects’ life histories before finally reaching the best part of their destination. It’s upsetting to hear about the conditions in Tinashe, Marlvin, Joseph and Pardon’s home country, but the determination of these men is admirable, as is their desire to change their circumstances in life and provide for their families by doing something they love.
Everybody loves an underdog story, and “Blind Ambition” is a feel-good documentary that’s close to impossible not to enjoy. It’s an unlikely tale that may just have you believing in destiny, at least for a little while.