I think it's safe to say that the average person doesn't spend an exorbitant amount of time considering the source of their food supply. Speaking personally, I can't even say my own knowledge of the farming industry extends beyond my exposure through fiction or images like Grant Wood's American Gothic painting. Lucky for me, Farmland is a new documentary that aims to correct my ignorance and shatter my dated stereotypes. The farmers whom director James Moll has chosen to follow are far from old, they don't tote large pitchforks, and they aren't exactly as sheltered as popular myth would lead you to believe. This is mostly because these fairly young farmers are all at least one generation removed from the old school to which these associations are attached. Perhaps the most interesting part of the film is that it offers a window into what farming in a modern context actually looks like, which I personally could not have guessed. But education aside, Farmland is a captivating work that, above all else, is about a community dedicated to tradition.
ScreenAnarchy: What compelled you towards the subject?
James Moll: I came to the subject without any connection to farming or agriculture; any history or family involved in the business. I was interested in it simply from being a consumer - someone who buys produce, eats meat and wants to know where this stuff comes from - and I had the opportunity to make this film and go on farms and meet farmers and essentially give them an opportunity to talk about what they do in their own atmosphere. I didn't write narration or anything like that, because it's really just in the voices of the farmers, and I got to ask them anything I wanted. They were very, very open with me. I got to ask them about some of the hot topics in agriculture today and hear the responses, but ultimately it was just about getting to know farmers as people - a character film.
What were your preconceptions of the farming trade? At what point did that become adjusted?
Well, there's a couple of things I think all of us think of farmers - in the traditional cliché sense, in red yarn and overalls, and they only know what they see in the media and the way it's portrayed, which to some extent, some stereotypes are true but by large it's not that way. So this film was really just about the cliché picture of farms and farming vs the real people, the real thing.
Most of your subjects are quite young. What made you want to explore new generations of farming?
That was my first impulse. When I was thinking about how I wanted to approach this film, the first thing that popped in my head was next generation. I wanted to talk to young farmers who are either running their own farms or posed to take over a family farm. That was my goal from the beginning.
How would you say the subjects generally feel about being farmers in the modern world?
Well, it's their way of life. It's what they know. It's like you and me and what we do everyday in our lives. I don't think they necessarily look at what they do as modern or when I ask the question about how farming has changed, they really had to think about it and parents were better able to talk about it. The kids, they do what they do and they use a lot of technological advances and it's easy to operate equipment on the farm, turn on an air circulation system with a button, or a press of the... iphone.
They're born into it...
Would you say you have a handle on how the farming community has reacted to this film?
I screened the film for the each one of the subjects in the film in a one on one environment - just me and the farmer, or maybe editor and farmer - before publicly showing it, and that's something I do with all my films just in case anything makes them uncomfortable or is not accurate... and they all liked it. From what I hear, people in the farming community seem to appreciate it as a film that honestly portrays farmers without me getting into the way as a filmmaker and trying to impose any sort bias.
What thoughts buying produce now as compared to before you took on this project?
Sad to say, I didn't even know...a lot of us don't know the difference between conventional produce and organic produce. Like what does organic really mean vs all natural vs all these types of foods... but I've come away from the experience feeling that weather produce is organic or conventionally grown, for the most part we have a very safe food supply in our country. I think we're in good hands. And I feel good about the fact that I can now put a face to the farmers.
Farmland hit theaters across the US starting today, May 2. You can see the trailer below and find cities playing the film on their website.