You may have heard about a little movie called Farmland. You may have even seen it already.
But make no mistake: while the movie is about farmers and it's incredibly beautiful and flattering and completely contradicts Food, Inc. and its ilk, Farmland is not for farmers.
I know. But it's true. USFRA produced the movie (which means they provided the funding for it) and hired Academy Award winning director James Moll. Reportedly, Moll plucked six farmers out of relative obscurity and made a movie about it. USFRA says they had no involvement in helping source farmers and gave Moll complete creative control. No talking points were given, no buzz words shared, no hot topics discussed. They just let Moll make the movie he wanted to make.
In fact, Minnesota hog farmer and Farmland star Ryan Veldhuizen says they didn't even return Moll's messages at first, thinking it was some kind of prank. I got to meet several of the farmers in the film this winter at an early showing, and they shared the same sentiment: "I don't know how he got my name!"
Despite criticism that the film doesn't include a dairy farmer, it struck me that Moll did a good job of including so many segments and geographic areas of American agriculture. The film follows six young farmers:
· Brad Bellah, a sixth-generation Texas cattle rancher
· Leighton Cooley, a fourth-generation Georgia poultry farmer
· David Loberg, a fifth-generation Nebraska corn and soybean farmer
· Sutton Morgan, a fourth-generation California organic produce farmer
· Margaret Schlass, a first-generation Pennsylvania vegetable farmer
· Ryan Veldhuizen, a fourth-generation hog farmer
Obviously, Moll couldn't include every last segment, or explore every topic as closely as we might have like him to. It's a movie, not a mini-series.
And the intended audience is, again, not us. USFRA funded this film to counter-balance anti-agriculture documentaries like Food, Inc., and King Corn. Their goal was to get it into film festivals, to secure a commercial theatrical release for theaters in major urban areas, and ultimately, to make it a college campus tour and air it on major cable networks. A curriculum-based program for high schools and colleges is also not out of the realm of possibility.
The film premiered in Chicago last week, and in other locations as well. Following the Chicago premiere, the Illinois Farm Families organized a panel discussion with Illinois farmers. Katie Pratt recapped her panel experience here, and says the audience didn't hold back. "Out of the gate, we got the GMO question, labeling, and 'what is your relationship to Monsanto?'"
I understand the farm audience's desire to see the film. I got to see it this winter at a screening and I'd love for my husband to see it. USFRA promises you'll find it on Netflix or another on-demand distribution network later in the summer, after the movie is out of theaters. So, patience, grasshopper.
As for the farmers, they are as delightfully down-to-earth and slightly overwhelmed by all this as you might imagine. And it doesn't sound like they dressed things up or did anything out of the ordinary before the cameras arrived either. Leighton Cooley even told us how he managed to get stuck spreading manure while they were filming. "You know how you have that little voice in your gut that says you shouldn't go there? But then you figure, 'aw, it'll be alright'? Well, that's when I got stuck, and those guys and their cameras came running to film it all!"
One of the most intimate moments in the film were of David Loberg and his family telling about the loss of his father. Loberg told how he didn't intend to take over the farm quite so soon, but his father was diagnosed with cancer and died shortly after. His mom is his partner now, doing everything from running tractors to keeping books. I may be overly emotional about it given my farm family's cancer history, but I'd very nearly guarantee that there was hardly a dry eye in the room when the camera zoomed in on an ear of corn Loberg had saved from his last harvest with his dad.
All this is to say, it's a good movie. It's beautiful - so beautiful that the photographer in me kept getting distracted with the wonder of how they got that shot and that lighting. But as a farm community, we may just have to be a little patient in waiting for our chance to see it.
For an updated list of theaters and show times, check here.