ALL IN THIS TEANR
The portrait of obsession in All in This Tea is far less dramatic than the one in filmmaker Les Blank’s most famous previous work, Burden of Dreams, but the presence of Werner Herzog (the subject of that earlier film) at least confers an air of importance.
In All in This Tea, Blank and co-director Gina Leibrecht follow David Lee Hoffman as he returns to China after years in the U.S., where he was a tea importer. While traveling in the Mainland, Hoffman introduces the tea makers from the factories to the “dirty farmers” on the mountainsides, who make tea the old-fashioned way—without chemical additives in the fertilizers. By advocating for the natural, handmade process, Hoffman must battle Chinese authorities and other forces affecting the health of the people and economic wellbeing of the farmers.
In addition to Hoffman’s story, All in This Tea offers a short history of tea, but it is hard to imagine how anyone not interested in the subject would be very engrossed by this movie. Obviously, Blank and Leibrecht are intrigued by the story of tea and by Hoffman, whose intensity seems genuine and well-meant. Tea lovers may join in—vicariously—on Hoffman’s quest and find his fight for the ancient organic recipes a quixotic but admirable gesture.
Film lovers may see a parallel between Hoffman and Herzog, at least at the point Herzog undertook the daunting production of Fitzcarraldo in the Amazon. Appropriately enough, Herzog’s cameo early in the narrative sets Hoffman on his way, though nothing Hoffman experiences ever gets as hairy as Herzog’s “heart of darkness” journey. At least Hoffman isn’t as arrogant as Herzog in getting what he wants.
Lensed on digital video, All in This Tea has the look of a Discovery Channel special. A few of the shots reveal the haunting beauty of the countryside, though most of the footage is mundane stuff, following Hoffman around farms and factories.
I wish the film had been more compelling. Unfortunately, I kept thinking of John Travolta’s character in Saturday Night Fever declaring, “I like cawfee,” as the more typical viewer response to All in This Tea.