The Whisky Word

The Whisky Word
04 Mar 2014

The Intelligent Hand

It is no news that craftsmanship is at the heart of The Balvenie’s ethos. It permeates everything we do, from the whisky we make to the craftspeople we work with around the world. We remain determined to preserve traditional whisky-making methods even as our scale changes and technologies advance all around us. This is what film-maker James Rogan witnessed when he came up to the distillery to create a film around David Stewart’s 50 years with William Grant & Sons a few years ago. At first no doubt annoyed by all the paperwork, health and safety protocol, and wearing hi-viz, what James saw was a working distillery, with dozens of people on-site... well, working. Perhaps this sounds inconsequential, but as most of you reading this know, most distilleries are lone-man operations, the whole process being managed from a computer console. Not so at The Balvenie, as James and his team saw. The human element inspired them: a distillery that still grows its own barley, uses traditional floor maltings and keeps both coppersmiths and coopers on-site. Inspired, we decided to work together to create a film about craftsmanship around the world

On Wednesday, 5th February 2014, we hosted the global premiere of The Balvenie’s The Intelligent Hand at BAFTA, London. Created by celebrated documentary maker, James Rogan and director Oliver Cheetham, the 45-minute film explores the working lives of five craftsmen and women from five different corners of the world. Although they all come from different background, there is a synergy of philosophy in their approach to their chosen craft. Whilst they create different products using different materials and methods, they all share The Balvenie’s passion for creating beautiful things by hand. 

The five craftspeople featured in The Intelligent Hand are:

•    Biren Vaidya, jeweller, Mumbai, India
•    Isabella Wen, fashion designer, Taipei, Taiwan
•    Rick Kelly, luthier, New York, USA
•    Maxim Sharov, handbag maker, Moscow, Russia
•    Paul Bergamo, bell-founder, Normandy, France

The title of the film was inspired by a quote in the film from French bell founder Paul Bergamo who said: “What’s really powerful and beautiful about craft is that these are professions that require a great theoretical knowledge, because we work with very technical things. But also what I call ‘the intelligence of the hand’ – things and know-how that you cannot write about, things that are handed down from worker to worker, from person to person.”

We followed the screening with a panel discussion and Q&A session featuring the film’s producer James Rogan and director Oliver Cheetham, Biren Vaidya, one of the craftspeople featured in the film, myself (how did I get here?), and chaired by BAFTA-winning documentary maker and absolute gentleman, Roger Graef.

After the screening and panel discussion, craftspeople including luthier David Anthony Reid and letterpress printer Mr Smith, displayed their work in the David Lean Room while guests enjoyed a few drams... and some pretty deep conversations. The film is incredibly thought provoking and joining Warehouse 24 will ensure you get a chance to see it when it is released near you. Until then, you can view a trailer here.

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