Farmland movie puts positive face on farms

 

Members of the Sigma Alpha professional agricultural sorority from North Dakota State University pose in front of the Farmland movie poster after viewing a premier showing on April 30, 2014, at Marcus West Acre Theater in Fargo, N.D.

FARGO, N.D. — If you have any connection to agriculture (you do, if you eat) the movie “Farmland” would be worth ten bucks, less than the price of a decent restaurant meal. If you have the evening available on Thursday, May 1, consider going to the Marcus West Acres Theater in Fargo, N.D., for the 7 p.m. one-and-only showing.

I’m not just saying that because I’m an agricultural reporter.

Really, it’s a good show. Take your kids, your mother, your friends, or get your eyeballs on it some way.

The 77-minute movie, paid for by the U.S. Farm and Ranch Alliance, a group of commodity organizations and agribusinesses. It is a documentary in an old media form – a movie — accomplished for the sponsors who are then promoting and maximizing its message through new media, including blogs, websites and text messages.

In a premier showing to a collection of invited ag-friendly guests on April 30 in Fargo, Farmland drew applause at the end and generally enthusiastic reviews. The North Dakota Soybean Council, one of the sponsoring groups hosted about 200 people, including a mix of some farmers, but also college students and long-time agriculture advocates. There have been private showings starting with the Commodity Classic ag show in San Antonio, Texas, in late February. (Carrington, farmer Ellen Linderman said she saw Farmland it in Texas and had to sign a form indicating she wouldn’t say anything about it to anyone. She didn’t, said husband Charles, who is a member of the soybean council.)

*Ag is still strong

Farmland doesn’t have a plot, but it has a story, and celebrates that agriculture has a strong heart.

Not surprisingly, farmers in this movie are good guys — trustworthy, hard-working, smart, and loyal to families and their customers. They like technology and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty or their hair filled with straw.

Anyone who personally knows stories of farm families will find familiar themes in the intertwined stories of six 20-somethings, selected from across the country – a Georgia chicken farmer, a Texas cattle rancher, a California commercial organic produce farmer, a Pennsylvania truck gardener. People from the Upper Great Plains will feel a special familiarity or kinship to stories of a Nebraska corn and cattle farmer, or a Minnesota hog, corn and soybean farmer.

Farmland  touches on a number of “big topics” in agriculture today, said one person the show – genetically modified organisms, animal welfare, water usage, and risk. The debate over the goodness of organic versus conventional farming or big versus small is debated between polite people who aren’t all that big, and don’t want to offend each other. They don’t.   

Most premier-goers mentioned that the movie correctly focused on the heart of farming and how the business has a different style of humanity than many other kinds of careers.

*Timeless themes

Documentary-maker James Moll dwelt heavily upon the ageless, intergenerational themes that are common in farming. The memorable moments for most people will include David Loberg of Carroll, Neb., who took over when his father died of cancer, or Leighton Cooley who has taken over a poultry enterprise. There is the inexorable influence of weather, and a familiar connection between farmers and religion that seems logical considering nature is out of human control.

In an era where many young farmers seem to feel ignored by urban consumers or even attacked by professional critics, this Farmland movie will offer an unusual rallying point, and perhaps a feeling of pride.

In Moll’s story, the cattle are beautiful creatures, the close-ups of pigs and baby chicks are of the young and cute, even when surrounded by automatic waterers and feeders. Farmers are unafraid to show school children their barns and answer questions.The movie contrasts this to sinister footage of undercover videos and has the farmers denouncing such acts.

In an era of Facebook and Twitter, when people can broadcast their personal stories, and entertainment goes viral, it is still impressive and compelling to see ordinary farmers being themselves  on the silver screen. Each of the subject farms gets its own high angle treatment, with the panoramas over the farm buildings. Farmers, through their check-off dollars, have made something they can share with city cousins.

*Comedy? Drama?

Farmland isn’t a funny movie, but it includes the gentle humor of jibes between brothers and fathers and sons who work with each other from childhood to the end and see life as a continuum. The farmers in the crowd laugh at the familiar home movies of little boys getting toy tractors at Christmas, or Ryan Veldhuizen of Edgerton, Minn., talking about how he learned to start recognizing health problems in pigs at age 4½.

Farmland isn’t a tragedy, but there are plenty of poignant family moments —  the birth of twin babies, the drama at whether the corn crop will emerge. One 50-something farmer in the audience choked up when he said he could relate to the Nebraska family who – several years after their father’s death – still had a cell number labeled “Dad” in their contacts.

Surely there are some things missing in Farmland. One movie-goer wondered whether there might have been more emphasis on the use of computers and marketing of crops. I wondered whether the stories might have included someone overcoming a crop failure, or a market problem.

To learn more about what I and others thought about  Farmland, watch for updates in this space and in the May 5 issue of Agweek magazine.

 

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