I want to preface this reaction review by mentioning that my primary sources of drink are coffee as a delivery device of caffeine to survive film festivals and various forms of water in filtered and carbonated form, preferably without sugar. Beer is the furthest choice in my mind when selecting a drink, however I am so excited that RAINIER: A BEER ODYSSEY is making its premiere at Seattle International Film Festival today and is going to be one of the hardest screenings to get into, with both showings almost sold out at the SIFF Cinema Egyptian. This movie IS Seattle in so many ways, yet it’s also so much more as you are about to find out. Read my reaction below the official synopsis!

Festival Notes: The word “iconic” is greatly overused, but Rainier Beer’s red-script “R” logo is just that—for decades a symbol of Seattle second, perhaps, only to the Space Needle itself. Rainier: A Beer Odyssey explores, exhaustively, how that happened. Short version: It was the dozens of witty, zany TV ads that have never left the memories of anyone who lived in Seattle from the World’s Fair through the Reagan era, dreamed up by a troupe of infinitely inventive (m)ad men and women led by Terry Heckler and Gordon Bowker. (Several of these merry pranksters were alumni of Seattle magazine, and that chapter of local journalistic history gets an affectionate sidebar.) Parody was a favorite strategy, using celeb impersonators from Carson to Rambo and sending up films from Jaws to Amadeus, plus plenty of the time’s pop songs. Mickey Rooney, of all people, got a late-career boost when the ad-makers found by accident he was available. Then in 1987 Rainier was bought by Aussie Alan Bond, the Rupert Murdoch of brewing; he instantly fired Heckler Bowker and Rainier sales plummeted in about as long as it took you to read this sentence. Funny how that happens. Since the ad crew was so young, several are still around, eager talking heads for director Isaac Olsen amid the wealth of vintage old-Seattle clips he’s amassed. (Credit: Gavin Borchert)

Reaction: WOW. You may think that you would not need to see a documentary on the infamous advertising of a centuries old beer company that put a small group of creatives on the map in Seattle, but after watching this wonderfully entertaining documentary you DO, you really really do. Never in my wildest dreams would I thought I would experience a completely fascinating documentary like RAINIER: A BEER ODYSSEY that hit me like a ton of bricks for its entire run time, and this is also a great underdog story as well as it focuses on a brilliant ad agency that made some of the most memorable ads for a little beer company, something of which still lasts to this day.

RAINIER: A BEER ODYSSEY earns its title and goes above and beyond to not just take a good beer but elevate its popularity with unique advertising, but also a total love letter to Seattle and its culture. I grew up seeing the Rainier beer ads (even living in Victoria, BC, Canada we picked up the Seattle TV stations and would watch them passionately) and toured the brewery with my late, great dad in the late 1990s, so even though I obviously didn’t drink beer at that age I was still fascinated by the oddity of Rainier and that motorcycle heading to the mountains, along with the life-sized beer bottles and many other memorable ads. And decades later, here we are with this complete love letter that is truly something to behold.

Filmmaker Isaac Olsen moves all of this at such an entertaining and even delirious pace, always eager to please. You can tell that Olsen, along with all of his creative team, are so loving of this era and take great care to present this story to get you involved and excited for this era. You could have not taken the smile off of my face as I was not only getting a complete presentation of vintage footage, burned up film clips but also the exact right interviews of everyone involved, right down to the famous-to-me John Keister, who always made me tune into the Seattle-based ALMOST LIVE as a kid.

Featuring a doc energy that is on the level of Edgar Wright’s THE SPARKS BROTHERS, I was not ready to be thrown full throttle into a history of Seattle from the late 60s all the way through until today, starting off with Seattle Magazine, a mention of some local coffee chain that took off, many more local icons that made the city what it is, and ending with footage of locals still remembering the legacy of Rainier after all of these decades. All of this dovetails into the infamous beer industry of Rainier and where it went in the 1980s after a corporation took it over (there’s a sequence involving a POV, near flying camera shot of the brewery that left me speechless) and the ad company went away, and it really is sad when you think about it. The doc even goes into Kubrick mode at times with some 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY parodies that even surpassed the opening scene to BARBIE last year, earning its awesome title.

RAINIER: A BEER ODYSSEY is not only one of the best movies at this year’s SIFF, but one of the very best documentaries I have seen in 2024. Just seeing this doc has made my first Seattle International Film Festival entirely worth the work, travel and experience as I HUNGER for documentary experiences like this, one that I fully intend to push down the road and celebrate. Don’t miss it. And I don’t even drink beer!

SIFF Media

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