As a Farm Bureau member in Minnesota, on Monday I was afforded the opportunity to watch the new “Farmland” film in a private showing and serve on a farmer panel afterward. If you haven’t seen the film, you can watch the trailer or find a theater where it’s showing at www.FarmlandFilm.com.
Watching it for the first time, I’ll admit it made me laugh, it made me cry (about 5 times), and I was tense throughout. At the end of the film, the audience in Morris, Minn., consisting of about 80 farmers and young farm leaders as part of the Minnesota Ag Ambassadors Institute, gave the show a big round of applause.
The film does a great job capturing the emotion, stress, and attitudes of farmers, including large crop and livestock farmers, a larger organic farmer, and a smaller community supported agriculture (C.S.A.) farmer. Through it all, I found myself rooting for all of them to make it through another season. Unfortunately, there were no dairy farmers in the film.
Then, the movie ends with a beautiful new rendition of a classic American song, the aforementioned applause rings throughout the theater, and I’m emotional. For a few seconds I thought, this is it – agriculture’s big break. Then, I realized, the 80 people in this room are still just cheering for each other, slapping ourselves on the back, and calling our own work a great success. But I don’t think there was one non-agriculture person in the room.
Netflix – the new newspaper
My wife and I, during boring childless evenings while we lived in Vermont (we now have a daughter and live on a farm in Minnesota, and life on a farm is never boring), would flip through Netflix to find any documentaries we found of interest.
First, we watched “Food, Inc.,” followed by “King Corn.” Both didn’t live up to the negative hype given by many in agriculture. Following those two, we watched a dozen other documentaries, some food-related, some not (and I would highly recommend “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” for any small business owner).
I’m quite sure that other millennials (at least the ones without kids), Gen Xers, and all the way up to Baby Boomers do the same practice. Therefore, my thinking is that if “Farmland” can get to Netflix, “Farmland” can start change in the world.
Finding our audience
But, I’m an insider. I have no clue how the public will react – if they watch it. The film left a lot of the “how” and “why” that consumers are wondering about out of the film. But James Moll, a renowned director, came into this knowing no farmers and nothing about farming. He's in a much better position than I am to determine what needs to be answered (or not).
Film critics are mixed on the movie. A recent Huffington Post review calls it one of the best documentaries out there. But, as Drovers’ Chuck Jolley notes, there’s been critical disapproval about it looking like company propaganda. And I admit, with big theatrics and interesting camera work, it makes farming look pretty amazing and shows little negativity. But the other documentaries have an angle, too, so why criticize the angle of this one?
I know that most farmers will love it. But, it is the general public we need to reach.
Is an expensive film about farming the best way to do it? Maybe. Should you call your local theatre and ask what’s keeping them from showing it? I think so. Most importantly, when is the last time you told a consumer group what you do on your farm and why you do it? That’s the real question that needs answering.