"In The Belly of The Moon" is presented by A & M Productions
Mezcal is an experience all in itself. Co-Directors, Antoine Hunt and Jüliz Ritchie, take us on a poetic journey of the maguey (agave) as it is harvested, roasted, and distilled transforming it into this spirit that we love. In The Belly of The Moon is based on the myths and folklore of the Oaxacan region of Mexico. This is the story of the many paths that mezcal travels and of the people it meets along the way. Tell us, how did mezcal find you?
Cast of Characters:
In The Belly of The Moon is distributed by Gravitas Ventures (gravitas.com)
Antoine Hunt is an artist and filmmaker. His 2020 Bermuda Biennialartwork This Is Not A Home is a reflection upon his nomadic lifestyle which has seen him relocate his place of residence 19 times. Jüliz is also a multimedia artist, who has also lived all around the world. The two of them met while Jüliz was finishing her short film 400 Rabbits. During the recording of this episode, Antoine was in Bermuda and Jüliz was in Berlin, making them one of our furthest teams to talk to!
Heather Grayson: Mezcal is steeped in as much history as the country of its origin.
B.C. Wehman: A history that has been passed through each generation by way of mystical legends and intricate processes.
Heather Grayson: This film delves into the rich connection-
B.C. Wehman: Between the Agave plant and the natives who harvest, ferment, and eventually pervade this fabled spirit.
Heather Grayson: Hi, I'm Heather Grayson, writer, producer, and director, who craves passion in filmmaking, and documentarians are just that. I write fiction, but I love to watch the truth.
B.C. Wehman: My mane is BC Wehman. I'm an actor, a writer, an entertainer, all sorts of creative endeavors, but what I love most? Being a storyteller. It's why I love documentaries. They're extraordinary stories from every day extraordinary people.
Heather Grayson: This is Behind the Doc, and today, we are behind the scenes of In the Belly of the Moon.
Speaker 3: Long ago, when life was filled with rituals and passion, when we were ruled by the seasons and fearful of the gods, the young and beautiful goddess of fertility, Mayahuel, sat at the edge of a cloud every night and sang a song filled with beauty and deep sadness. The serpent god of the wind, Ehecatl, heard Mayahuel's song. Enchanted by the mesmerizing ballad, he followed the sounds until he found her, whereupon he fell madly in love. Each night, he would visit, curling his passionate breeze around her, dancing until they were one. Mayahuel's jealous and possessive grandmother, Tzintzimitl, was enraged by the impossible strength of their passion, believing it to be stronger than all the heavens, and plotted to kill the lovers. Aware of Tzintzimitl's plan, Ehecatl embraced Mayahuel, sweeping her to the earth. During the journey, their bodies passionately melted into one, developing into a beautiful plant, the maguey, it's many green spires reaching towards the heavens. From that moment, the maguey would be a symbol of passion and transformation, an elixir of a culture created around magic and love.
B.C. Wehman: Welcome, everyone, to Behind the Doc, a show where we take a deep dive into documentary filmmaking and the people that make them, and we're very excited today to have with us Antoine Hunt, Juliz Ritchie, the writers, director, along with producer and co-director of an amazing film In the Belly of the Moon. It's a film about making mezcal, but it's a film about so much more. It's about the people, it's about the culture, it's about the spirituality of the countryside that is Mexico in this amazing spirit that is produced from it. So, with a name like In the Belly of the Moon, how do you describe this film to people when you tell them? Because it really doesn't say what it's about. So, when they ask you, "What is In the Belly of the Moon," how do you describe that film to people?
Juliz Ritchie: The idea was that the story... I mean, mezcal has written a song narrative, so it predates history. It starts with the agave plant and so on. So, we thought, we start with a really slow pace at the beginning, that we have a little prehistoric experience, and then as the story, as the narrative of mezcal, the pace goes up, so the movie gets faster towards the end, fast-paced and so on.
Antoine Hunt: We always had the idea that we would center this around the myths of mezcal and the beginnings. So, the beginnings have these great stories about how it was discovered and came into the world. When you see Mexico City from the mountains, how it was way back when sitting in a lake, you have the reflection of the moon in the lake, and Mexico City sits in the navel of the moon.
B.C. Wehman: I was going to say, in the navel of the moon doesn't have quite the same ring to it.
Antoine Hunt: I know.
B.C. Wehman: You both worked on a short film called 400 Rabbits.
Speaker 3: The fertility goddess, Mayahuel, known as the protector of pulque, was said to have given birth to 400 rabbits, of whom she fed pulque from her many breasts. Known as the gods of drunkenness, these divine rabbits traveled through the land, bestowing their gift to the people, each rabbit representing a different experience of intoxication.
B.C. Wehman: And those 400 rabbits are part of this story and this myth. Is that where you got the idea to document this lifestyle? Or when did you decide that filming this short film and having mezcal as part of it in this culture was going to become more of a documentary about their creation and the stories behind it?
Juliz Ritchie: So, we initially went to Mexico for Guanajuato Film Festival. One of our film was selected. And our host there, Carmelo, he used to run a boutique mezcal bar, and we had the built-in crew as part of the festival, the festival guests. So, we hired a van and we start traveling around, and we took part in... and got introduced to some of the producers that he would [inaudible 00:05:44] his mezcal from. And we got fascinated, and three years later, so we were able to fundraise and tell the story.
B.C. Wehman: So, how was this process, Antoine and Juliz? You're both artists from different fields. I know Antoine, you've done sculpting, you've done photography. Why make this jump into filmmaking when you were already seemingly have a lot of artistic avenues you're going down?
Antoine Hunt: Well, it's not that much of a leap because in my work as an artist, I do use film, and I tend to do very abstract pieces that have been selected for like the Bermuda National Gallery's Biennial. So, making a feature film is more of a leap coming from just making a few short films with Juliz.
Heather Grayson: And Juliz, it's really interesting to me because it looks like, in your background, you were used to sell or at least in the business of financial technology. I myself am in the technology field, so I just thought that was such a great leap. And what made you leap from doing that work to more artistic creations, I guess you should say?
Juliz Ritchie: I think I followed both paths simultaneously, but last five, six years, I am actually not anymore in the software. I have a mathematics background, and also, I studied art, so I have to satisfy both aspects.
B.C. Wehman: When I was telling someone that I watched this film, and I said, "I'm about to do this film, talk to these amazing directors of this film about mezcal," their first response was, "Oh, it's about tequila." And of course I had to set the record straight, I was like, "Well, tequila, technically," but let's help explain to the audience because I feel like, and I just learned this to be honest with you a few days ago when I watched it, I didn't really understand the difference. And it was apparent upon watching it and learning from your film, but how do you describe, or how do you help educate people when they say, "Isn't that just tequila?"
Juliz Ritchie: Tequila is made from blue agave and comes from Jalisco only. So, they have the rights to call their products tequila, and it's mostly produced from farmed blue agaves, and mezcal is more umbrella name, any agave sprit is called mezcal.
Antoine Hunt: To make it even more confusing, tequila is a mezcal. It was just branded as tequila, and it went out into the world as tequila. And that's basically what everybody knows. But in Mexico, if you say mezcal, that could also mean tequila.
Speaker 6: Tequila is a derivative of mezcal. It originated as this agave light beer and then turned into mezcal, and people who are interested in learning definitely perk up their ear.
B.C. Wehman: How did you end up settling on the people that you did in the film? I'd imagine there's several people that produce it down there, that create amazing spirit. How did you end up settling on the communities that you did?
Juliz Ritchie: That was quite interesting. For me, it was life changing experience, as well, I could say. Because we went to really places that they were completely disconnected. Like for instance, when we went to Ixcatlan, it's on top of a mountain, there's no mobile reception, nevermind internet. And there was a funeral of somebody, and he spoke a specific language and he was the last person who spoke that language. And that language died with him. So, these really disconnected rural communities, they are also governed by their own rules. We really approach with a great respect and let them to take us into their community so that we can observe properly and film properly.
Antoine Hunt: A lot of the people that we did come across and have the film came from the great crew that we had. My DP, he was actually a mezcal guy, and he knew people. And then once you know one person, you know somebody else, and it keeps cascading like that. So, it was just a natural process to keep finding people. I'm still finding people. There's so many aspects of mezcal that keep going on and on and on and on.
Heather Grayson: What I found really interesting was not only the cinematography. I mean, it was absolutely gorgeous. Just every frame just seemed to pick something up for me, but also, that you didn't translate. When you first come into it, I was like, "Oh, I wonder how I'm going to understand what they're saying," but very thoughtfully, you're letting us paint our own picture. And I really enjoyed that. What was the thought behind that?
Antoine Hunt: The initial scene with the guy out in the desert giving thanks...
Speaker 7: [foreign language 00:11:08].
Antoine Hunt: My whole thought was that you would feel what he's talking about, and what he's doing is convey just through his actions. So, that was part of taking off from the poetry of the film. I would say this, also, one of the things that happens when you make a film is everything that you think is going to happen, doesn't. The notes, the book, the script, it doesn't mean anything. It's like, "Oh, my gracious." We have so many adventures that you just could not predict.
B.C. Wehman: Well, let's go there. So, you did film in a very rural region and what I would imagine would be a very hot region. I'd imagine the temperatures, your utilities, the access to electricity, as Juliz just said, wifi is probably very sparse at best. I'm sure you, as you said, planned to try to capture this environment with your equipment. What kind of things did you run into? What were some of these unexpected road bumps that you just blew your mind that these are actually happening to you while you're in the countryside of Mexico?
Juliz Ritchie: He was running away from coyotes [inaudible 00:12:33] hang onto his camera. Wouldn't let it go.
Antoine Hunt: On top of this mesa, the crew left me to go shoot something else whilst I was there doing a time-lapse, and I'm standing there twiddling my thumbs and there's nothing, there's nothing on this mesa except for a tree, this skinny little tree about quarter mile away from me. And this truck comes up, and it happened to be the guy that we were staying with from the village, and he comes over to me, he's like, "Look over there," and there were these two coyotes just eyeing me up. If he hadn't come along.... Because he's like, "Get in the truck now." If he hadn't come along, who knows what would've happened? I would have been fending off coyotes with my tripod.
B.C. Wehman: No. I don't know. That would have been a tough battle.
Speaker 3: Wrapped in the traditions of the Catholics feast of All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows Day, the Day of The dead is a festival of food, songs, and color. It is a celebration of life, of rebirth and renewal. It is a day where your personal story meets the stories of your ancestors.
B.C. Wehman: I did think one of the amazing things is watching the Day of the Dead ceremony, and I had, much like you mentioned, Antoine, probably preconceived notions or an idea of what it was. And I was emotional watching it because it is the celebration of life. It's called Day of the Dead, but I don't think I ever truly understood it. And your film helped paint what people are doing, and mezcal plays a big part of that. Right? They give it to the adults so they have a taste of what life was like to bring them back.
Speaker 3: Dia de Los Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with activities the dead enjoyed in life. This is a ritual that recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience. On the Day of the Dead, the dead are also part of the community, awakened from their eternal slumber to share celebrations with their loved ones. This is a day of remembrance and acknowledgement of our common fate.
B.C. Wehman: I think it helps de-mystify death, and I feel like they're much more comfortable in peace with people passing on because they get to celebrate with them yearly this moment. I felt like that, and I'm really happy you included it. I don't know if it's so much a statement than a question. I just think it was a nice part because it really showed and helped me understand what it was and why it means so much to the people.
Antoine Hunt: Brilliant. I love that you said that.
Juliz Ritchie: One [inaudible 00:15:22] for me was that most of these artists, that they really believed that the spirit of their deceased ones, they actually come and visit them. And they always include a glass of mezcal in the alter so that they can come and also experience that. That was very interesting for me, and that was the key, that we have to definitely include Day of the Dead.
Speaker 3: Mezcal is present on all the altars, there to quench the thirst of the deceased after their long journey home.
Heather Grayson: And on these mantles, which were beautiful, and just, again, the cinematography for all of it was amazing, was mezcal. And with going into the making and producing of mezcal, I honestly, before watching this... And actually I work with some restaurant companies here in my area, and one is going to be a mezcal bar. So, he introduced me to this, and I had never even heard of it, honestly, until about a month ago. I did not expect it to be smoky. I didn't know that that was... You have tequila, and it's kind of a little bitter, I guess, and then, you take a sip of mezcal and it's this smoky, interesting flavor. How was that process just to watch them go through and take these and smoke these? It was just so interesting, the whole method of it and all the crosses. It was just crosses everywhere. How is it to focus on that and learn about it and get to watch it all go down?
Antoine Hunt: It's hard to describe when you see and taste the plant coming out of this fire, you have a deeper appreciation of the complexities of the final spirit.
Juliz Ritchie: Also I want to bring it to your attention, so I feel it was mainly about ancestral style of mezcal making, and they consider that process more like a folk art, because one batch is different than the other batch. You might have the same producer producing it, but each batch is very unique.
Speaker 8: It's ancestral, so they still continue to create this process as their ancestors. There's nothing that's really changed, and you can taste that.
Juliz Ritchie: So, there's actually quite diverse, when we talk about mezcal, we talk about a huge spectrum.
Antoine Hunt: Yeah, there are, depending on who you talk to, between like 20 and 30 different plants that you can make mezcal out of, out of the 200 odd plants, and each one has its own characteristics. And then, each producer is going to produce a different taste from the same plant depending on the [inaudible 00:18:41]. So, the landscape can vary greatly, and that adds to what's the flavor of the end product is. You can have a father and son making the same mezcal in the same palenque, in the same still, that tastes completely different. It's quite amazing.
Juliz Ritchie: I mean, these producers that we were able to film, they're like wise old man of that village. He knows how to harness the best fruit from this plant.
Heather Grayson: It's almost as if his story is blended into the mezcal.
Juliz Ritchie: Absolutely. Yes.
Antoine Hunt: Yeah. A lot of these guys, you would find that they actually sleep with their mezcal. You walk into this room, and there's all this mezcal and bottles and the bed in the corner
Speaker 8: I'm here because... be part of a process that it's not known to me, but that I enjoy, drinking mezcal. I put everything aside, other liquors and beer, and focused on mezcal because I felt that was the spirit that I really truly enjoyed. What I want to was to work in a palenque. Whatever part of the process that the family allows me to be part of, I'm more than happy.
B.C. Wehman: I found it interesting, there's the one artist who is painting the agave plant in the ash and makes a point to say he wanted to learn, and they told him he's not from here so while he can appreciate it, he doesn't get to learn the intricacy. So, there is some guardedness, it seems, on some of it. That was a nice little piece to add in there to show it's not... not that it's not welcoming, but there are still things they'd like to keep close to their community, to their heritage, to their country, and their people.
Juliz Ritchie: I mean, that is what we find out. These communities, they're really governed by their own law, so they make their own rules. But this was Lalo and it was his community, so in that community, they don't allow foreigners to learn the craft.
Antoine Hunt: Yeah. Because one of the things that he is doing is to get the knowledge of how to make mezcal something that's more alive in the communities, because one of the things that is happening right now is that more Mexicans are leaving the States and going back to Mexico to get into making mezcal in the traditional ways. And there are quite a few communities that are supporting this. And with Lalo, you have also the idea that there's certain kinds of mezcals that they say, or ways of making mezcal, that come from his community that they want to protect. So, it's like the idea of a patent, let's say, so they want to keep it amongst themselves.
Speaker 8: I had asked again if I could be part of the process, and with much respect, he told me, "Unless I'm born in Santa Catarina Minas, I won't be allowed to participate in the process." And again, I took off my hat to him, and I said, "I get it. I respect it."
B.C. Wehman: It was interesting to note, as much as you talk about all the welcoming, I would be, and this is a shift, but I would be remiss, before I forget, I am fascinated and in love with drone videography. And I have to tell you, Antoine, I don't know if you were the pilot or who you hired to do that, but your drone work, and I think you're helped, do not take this personally, by the beautiful landscape that you were filming. I mean, you were able to capture some amazing footage of drone work in there was spot on, and it really helped paint the area. Even the height, sometimes, of the plants, you're able to get to the very top of these tall stalks, and it was just... Just compliments to whoever was your drone operator. It was amazing.
Antoine Hunt: Yeah. I mean, it started... There's so many stories, but with the drone, we were lucky enough to be able to have it fully kitted out where I could do things with focus pulling, so it's not just like this flat, wide shots of things. They got annoyed at me all the time because... I was like, "No, we're not putting on the wide angle lens. We're taking this with the telephoto. Get close to it and up and down, straight up and down." I'm drawing diagrams on the ground and trying to get... say, "Okay, we go here and then here, and the camera's got to do this."
Heather Grayson: Well, it definitely worked out well. It was absolutely... Just the scenery and just everything about it, I don't know, it was really calming and spiritual.
Antoine Hunt: The question is always asked, "How did mezcal find you?" And it found me through yet another party, but it was where a friend of mine, it was her birthday, Claudia, I went with her to get some mezcal. And she shows up with this like five gallon container of spirit, and I'm like, "Okay, what's that?" From that moment, I started to question, "Where did this come from, and what's it all about?" And that's how it really started for me. And over the years, I just learned more and more.
Speaker 9: You don't find mezcal, mezcal finds you. And you think about that for a moment, everybody you know that loves this, they were somewhere, some experience, some moment happened for them that they said, "Oh, that was the moment that I knew I had to be doing this." And I guarantee, I make a habit of it, I ask people, I love finding out how did mezcal find you?
B.C. Wehman: Juliz, it is something you talk about in the film, and Antoine just told us his. So, how did mezcal find you?
Juliz Ritchie: It finds me when I went to Guanajuato with the film festival, with one of my films. Our host, Carmelo, he had a boutique mezcal bar, and there, it all happened. He made really nice cocktails.
Antoine Hunt: And somebody starts to really get going and starts singing in Turkish when they drank mezcal.
Heather Grayson: Oh, finding out some secrets.
Juliz Ritchie: Yeah. Let's change the subject.
B.C. Wehman: Let me ask you this as we wrap up. Antoine and both for you, Juliz, people watch it, and much like mezcal, you have these different experiences when you watch films. I took something different, maybe, from it than Heather did, or our producer, Sarah. What do you hope people, when they watch this, what do you hope they take away from it? What do you want there to be their lasting image or moving forward? Is it just to appreciate it, is there to drink mezcal? What do you want people to learn and take away from your film?
Juliz Ritchie: I like the audience to feel that we use mezcal as a way, as a tool, to showcase Mesoamerica, the rural parts, the cities, urban landscapes, have a general idea.
Antoine Hunt: I would love it if people were to... I hope they would understand what mezcal is a little better and the beauty of not just Mexico, but the people, and to also counteract the things that go on in the media, especially these days. It's just such a wonderful place where people are people, and Mexico has such a diverse and wide range of flavors and textures and colors. I can't wait to get back.
B.C. Wehman: You both did an amazing job of putting it together, telling a great story about the culture, about the spirit, and about the people that appreciate it, so I'm really grateful that we had an opportunity to watch the film.
Juliz Ritchie: Oh, thank you.
B.C. Wehman: I'm really grateful for the opportunity to speak with you, to really understand it, and I think it makes me appreciate it even more. I will say, and we have to point it out, there is a lot of mezcal being dranken, drunk, whatever that word is, during the movie. And did you guys partake as you're going throughout and filming? I got to imagine there's a lot of mezcal drinking.
Antoine Hunt: No, no.
B.C. Wehman: No, not at all?
Antoine Hunt: Absolutely not.
B.C. Wehman: Never? Not one sip?
Antoine Hunt: Absolutely not.
B.C. Wehman: All around it all day. You're like, "No."
Antoine Hunt: No.
B.C. Wehman: Yeah. I feel like there was a lot.
Juliz Ritchie: I can admit it was not easy to wear the producers' hats during those [inaudible 00:27:45].
Antoine Hunt: Yeah. Sometimes that guy they called the director would be hanging out with a crew till hours in the morning and then be up for 6:00 to be out shooting.
Juliz Ritchie: Somebody has to take care of the equipment an so on.
B.C. Wehman: And I do have one more question. There's a caterpillar in the bottom of my bottle.
Speaker 10: So, it's a common practice to put a worm inside a bottle of mezcal. And of course, this mezcal is going to have the flavor of the worm. Some people say that the reason why people began putting a mezcal inside the bottle was basically to see how high it was in terms of the alcohol by volume, in a bottle of mezcal. If you put a worm in it and it's well-preserved, then it means it has enough alcohol to preserve the worm. If it doesn't, if you add some more water than it should, then of course the world is going to destroy the [inaudible 00:00:28:32], it's going to be a mezcal that doesn't have enough content of alcohol. So, that's one of the stories of how it began and why they began putting worms inside of mezcal.
B.C. Wehman: Do I eat that or no? That's what I don't know because I just... Like the internet says sometimes they're hallucinogenic. I feel like that's not true, but do you eat the worm or not?
Antoine Hunt: It's okay to eat it. It's protein.
B.C. Wehman: It's an acquired taste. Thank you both-
Juliz Ritchie: It's an acquired taste.
B.C. Wehman: Exactly.
Antoine Hunt: It just tastes more like mezcal because the worm eats the plant, so if you were to eat the worm, not in the mezcal, it really tastes like mezcal, maybe with a little metallic on top.
B.C. Wehman: Wow. No better way to sell that. I think we are all plenty thirsty by now. Go drink a little mezcal to end the day. Thank you very much for joining us. Really appreciate it. It was great time to talk with you. And your film is wonderful, and I really hope more people get to appreciate it and Mexico. And as you said, Juliz, not just the country, not political-wise, but the people. In the people, in the plant, in what they are doing. I did feel spiritual watching it. I felt like if I have a sip I'm in touch with a culture I didn't know much about, so I think that was one of my takeaways. But thank you both for making it. We've had a wonderful time talking to you, and we wish you both the best of luck.
Juliz Ritchie: Thank you.
Antoine Hunt: Thank you very much.
Juliz Ritchie: Thank you. We enjoyed it. Thanks for the opportunity.
Speaker 11: It's wonderful that the young generation of Mexicans are coming up saying, "No, no, I respect this. I respect this culture. I want this artisanal, handcrafted product." This is new to Mexico. It's the most ancient of all spirits, but for years, you're taught that it's rotgut and it's moonshine and it'll make you go blind and this is terrible. Though, you never know what those guys up in the mountains are putting in their liquor, and it's like what we do experience is these very, very handcrafted particular products. This is about sharing, whether it's in the bartending community, whether it's in the culinary community, whether it's amongst friends and family, this is conviviality. This is sharing. This is community. This is family.
Heather Grayson: Thanks for listening to this episode of Behind the Doc, if you liked us, because we all know you did, leave us a review and your Apple Podcast app.
B.C. Wehman: Behind the Doc is produced by Evergreen Podcasts in association with Gravitas Ventures.
Heather Grayson: Special thanks to executive producers, Nolan Gallagher, and Michael Dialoya.
B.C. Wehman: Produced by Sarah Willgrube.
Heather Grayson: And audio engineer, Eric [inaudible 00:31:12].
B.C. Wehman: And you'll find us everywhere and anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts.