Jolley: Film reviewers reinvent the word 'duplicity'

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I was reading Angela Bowman's "Critics Blast 'Farmland'" and had to walk away for a few minutes just to keep my annoyance from exploding off the page.  I came back and said, "Oh, hell, no!  I can't let the critics' overly-biased comments slide by."  Cheshire, Catsoulis and Tsai all showed they were leading with their backsides when they viewed the film.

Look at the criticism they published online about Farmland:

Quote from Review



“’Farmland’ is essentially just masquerading as an actual documentary. In reality, it's a glossy corporate infomercial for American agribusiness.”

Godfrey Cheshire with

½ of 4 stars

“Smooth and folksy, it traffics in broad, unchallenged claims that serve a single purpose: to persuade us that the only thing wrong with today’s farming methods is our misinformed perception of them.”

Jeannette Catsoulis with The New York Times

30 of 100

“The slickly produced documentary Farmland often comes off like lobbyist propaganda, profusely extolling the virtues of the independent American farmer.”

Martin Tsai with the Los Angeles Times

30 of 100

It seems urban-based film reviewers are all fans of slickly produced, glossy infomercials loaded with unchallenged claims when they watch something like Fast Food Nation, Food, Inc. or Meatrix  but hold similar high production values against Farmland.  You can dazzle them with clever camera tricks if you want to bash the way we raise our food and bring it to market and they'll swallow it as though it was the tastiest all natural, organic, raised-by-an-artisan piece of  epicurious meat ever dropped on a plate.

But come out in defense of modern food production with real stories about real farmers and that same approach to film-making becomes just another way to distort the truth?  It is now 'lobbyist propaganda, profusely extolling the virtues of the independent American farmer?"

Is Martin Tsai suggesting the independent American farmer lacks virtue and is an unwitting tool of the much reviled big ag/big food cabal that is deviously forcing affordable food down our throats?  Do Cheshire, Catsoulis, Tsai & friends have a corner on the truth about American agriculture as defined by such master propagandists as Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser and Mark Bittman?

Or can we call the Pollan family of anti-ag publicists just clever food faddists who cater to the willfully uninformed?  Instead of "big ag" are they "big foodies" who know a lucrative market when they see it and studiously give them what they want?  Damning the way we produce our food generates big bucks even if the information is factually flimsy.  Dining at some of the finest four star restaurants as people like Mark Bittman often do while 'tut tutting' the way the rest of the world eats strikes me as an overly elitist approach that does little more than make them feel their lack of knowledge  is really a badge of honor.

What those flim-flam film reviewers have done is convinced a large portion of urban America to avoid Farmland because it has excellent production values.  If it had been filmed by amateurs with cell-phone cameras, they might have raved about its 'earthy, honest feel straight from the heartland of America.'

What you need to do now is work even harder to make sure 'real people' (you know, city-dwellers?) see the film.  Call a few of your urban friends today and invite them to join your at a nearby theater this weekend. Spring for the popcorn and soda if they need a little extra incentive.

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Midwest  |  May, 22, 2014 at 09:18 AM

Thanks for this article! I can tell you were close to the edge on your response. Perhaps they should take a few week internship on the fenceline to learn about the glories and riches of the ranchlife and beef production in general. OR better yet lets do it in say January in the upper Midwest and see how that might adjust their lense a bit. Thanks for what you do!

Colo  |  May, 22, 2014 at 03:40 PM

How comforting for them to be so morally superior. Obviously they don't eat or wear anything that originated from a farm or ranch.

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