After a career as a computer engineer and later as a TV actor, Jerry Bell Jr., of Beaverton, Oregon, found his niche as the director of documentary films that trace the rise of winemakers of color. His film, Red, White & Black: An Oregon Wine Story, about Oregon’s wine industry, debuted earlier this year. Next up is Journey Between the Vines: The Black Winemakers’ Story, which takes a national focus.
How did you become interested in wine as a documentary film subject?
I didn’t know anything about wine. For me, wine had to be sweet. But I bumped into an acquaintance, Bertony Faustin, at a wine festival and learned he was making wine at his own place, Abbey Creek Vineyard in North Plains, Oregon. He was telling me all about the challenges he’d faced as the state’s first recorded black winemaker and said he’d like to do a documentary. I talked him into letting me do it.
What was your connection to the film industry at that time?
I left Intel [Corporation] to pursue my passion of TV and film acting. One of the commercials for Swiffer that I made with my young son, Jerry Bell III, went national and was so popular I had to put up a fan page on Facebook. I still do acting, but I like sharing people’s stories. Now I direct and produce films.
How did you finance the film?
Primarily through the sale of wine. The winemakers in the film made a wine called Red, White & Black Collaboration. We sold out of it really fast. The winemakers poured and sold their own wines at all our screenings, too.
What are you hoping viewers will get from watching your documentary?
I feel like it’s a good education opportunity and inspiring to any minority who’s interested in doing this. I wanted to highlight the challenges, but I also wanted to celebrate the fact that they’re doing this in an industry that lacks diversity. Minorities bring different cultures and different experiences to wine.
Have you learned to appreciate wine more since you started this project?
It was a huge learning curve, just getting the lingo down. But being a wine-film director has its benefits, big time. I have a new appreciation of wine. And your appreciation changes once you know the winemakers and know a little bit about their story. That helps a lot.