Filmmaker Jason Wise, best known for “The Somm,” a hit documentary that followed four people hoping to become master sommeliers, summed up his experience shooting his latest documentary as a cautionary tale for those just getting started in the genre.
“As a director, I would say to people who want to become a director, ‘Don’t make a film out on the open ocean,'” Wise said, laughing. “Don’t make a film that takes place around great white sharks. Just stick to studio stuff and make things nice and safe and easy.”
Wise’s latest film, “The Delicacy,” took him to an unlikely locale. The film documents the surprisingly dangerous world of fishing for sea urchin—considered to be, well, a delicacy. Inspired by nature documentaries, Wise wanted to take that model of filmmaking and turn it to tell the story of the characters performing the dangerous job of extracting the sea urchin from the ocean.
A former underwater photographer who is currently obsessed with sea urchin as a food, Wise discovered he could find a way to combine these passions.
“I had been looking for a project where I can do all of these very strange things,” he said. “I know this doesn’t sound sane. It’s not.”
Wise said that it was really the people who helped seal the deal that this was the story he wanted to tell. The no-nonsense nature of fishermen not only made for compelling characters on film but also added to the degree of difficulty in shooting.
“Fishermen are some of the most fascinating, vulgar, wonderful, sage-like people I’ve ever worked with,” Wise said. “I really wanted to get these kind of people into a film.”
During the making of “The Delicacy,” Wise became obsessed with the concept of rare foods considered to be delicacies. He thought about why people eat these unusual items differently than they would eat common sustenance like bread or rice.
“Do we eat it because it’s rare? Do we eat it because it’s expensive?” he said. “You don’t eat it because it’s great; you eat it because it’s interesting.”
Wise found the world of fishing for sea urchins to be more fascinating than he imagined. Fishermen make respectable money for their work, but given the inherent dangers, he mused about why these people are so passionate about their craft.
The film also covers the culinary aspects of the food, with renowned chefs like SingleThread’s Kyle Connaughton. Wise hopes to take the filmmaking model and document other delicacies and the people who bring them to the plate.
“The Delicacy” isn’t the only exciting development on Wise’s plate. The filmmaker behind “The Somm” is also launching SommTV, a new streaming platform dedicated solely to food and wine programming.
Wise said the inspiration for launching the new service came from the realization that the food and wine programming on other platforms didn’t measure up. On SommTV, food and wine lifestyle becomes the star of the show and allows viewers to take a deep dive.
A May SommTV premiere event at winemaker Jesse Katz’s new winery in Healdsburg was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Wise is pressing on, even if it means sending cameras to his subjects. “The Delicacy” is streaming now on SommTV and is expected to be available more widely at some point.