Hundreds of state agricultural leaders gathered at a movie theater in Madison last week for an advance private screening of the documentary film "Farmland" — a project that was financially supported by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.
The film was dreamed up by the farm and ranch coalition, which includes 80 organizations and partners, as a way to help the general public understand what the lives of farmers are like.
In the feature-length documentary, Academy Award-winning director James Moll follows the lives of six young farmers and ranchers and highlights their passion for farming. Five of the young people were taking over family farms and one calls herself a "first-generation" farmer, having started her own organic vegetable growing business in Pennsylvania.
"In Farmland, audiences will hear thoughts and opinions about agriculture, but not from me, and not from a narrator," Moll says about his film. "They're from the mouths of the farmers and ranchers themselves."
The six young farmers were interviewed on their farms, in their workday clothes, but were also shown doing their work — planting corn, driving cattle, putting new chicks into a large poultry barn, handling pigs, fixing machinery, harvesting vegetables and numerous other jobs that farmers take on.
There were no dairy farmers among them, a slight disappointment for the Wisconsin audience.
Nancy Kavazanjian, a Wisconsin corn and soybean farmer from Beaver Dam is vice chair of the executive committee of the USFRA, by virtue of serving on the United Soybean Board, and helped host the preview event in Madison.
She said the group supported the project but didn't have a hand in choosing the farmers who were in it. They turned Moll loose to make the film. "We are hoping the film opens a dialogue about how are food is produced."
"I'm so proud of it," she told Wisconsin State Farmer. "And I'm so proud of the industry for doing such a great job with it."
The hope is that the film will be used in schools, FFA chapters and collegiate Farm Bureau chapters as well as reaching non-farm audiences. "We made it to tell our story and it does a wonderful job of telling the story of farmers."
Moll produced the feature-length film for theaters but there is also a 45-minute version for classroom use and for television, Kavazanjian said.
Kavazanjian and her daughter plan to attend the preview of the film at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City in April
Though the USFRA had a huge hand in making the film possible, she said it had nothing to do with how Moll chose the farmers or the process he used.
In addition, when the final cut of the film was done it had to get approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) because commodity checkoff funds were allocated to make the film.
Any time there's any messaging done with checkoff funds, Kavazanjian said, the AMS must approve.
Two of the growers in the film were organic vegetable growers. One of them grew large fields of onions, carrots and potatoes in California where his dad is also a conventional vegetable grower. The other grew vegetables by hand, with old equipment on small fields in her startup, a Community Supported Agriculture farm.
Moll delved into subjects like genetically modified crops and some of the issues that surround that subject. But mostly the film chronicled the daily lives and challenges of the young people entering farming.
"With the average American several generations removed from farm life, we hope this film finds a wide audience of those interested in where their food comes from," said Casey Langan, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation spokesman.
"The six farmers in the film discuss many misconceptions about agriculture. Wisconsin farmers and agriculturists can expand this conversation by promoting Farmland to others," Langan added.
Among the items Langan gave the farm audience in Madison last week was a discussion guide that can be used to flesh out thoughts and concepts brought forward in the film.
After viewing the film, Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Ben Brancel said he didn't know what to expect from a film titled "Farmland" but was happy at the way it depicted the family relationships that contribute to most farming operations.
"It showed all styles and all types of agriculture too," he said. "It shows how family farms continue from one generation to the next and also showcases a first-generation farmer.
"The film showed the emotional and physical toll farming can take. They did a good job of selecting a wide variety of farmers," Brancel added.
"Farmland" will have its New York premiere at a private screening on April 17, during the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. Additionally, Farmland has been selected to be in competition this year at Cleveland International Film Festival, Atlanta Film Festival, Nashville Film Festival and the Newport Beach Film Festival.
The documentary features an original score composed by Nathan Wang with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The film also includes an original recording of "This Land is Your Land" performed in a first-ever collaboration with platinum rock band Everclear and Grammy Award-nominated artist Liz Phair.
It is scheduled for release nationwide on May 1 and will be shown in a growing number of Wisconsin cities on that date.
Confirmed showings include: Milwaukee, Mequon, Sturtevant, New Berlin, Appleton, Ashwaubenon, Brookfield, La Crosse, Madison, Menomonee Falls, Oak Creek, Oshkosh and Sheboygan.
The distribution of the film is taking it to Regal Cinemas, Marcus Theatres (where the Madison preview was held), Carmike Cinemas, Landmark Theatres and key independents.
For details on these showings, additional information about the film and to watch the trailer, visit www.FarmlandFilm.com.
The film is being distributed to more than 60 major markets. Farmland was produced by Moll's Allentown Productions, with major support from USFRA.
Based at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, Allentown Productions is a film and television production company specializing in non-fiction filmmaking. Allentown Productions was established by Moll, who was born in Allentown, PA — hence, the name of the company.
His work as a documentary director/producer has earned him numerous awards including an Academy Award, two Emmy Awards, a Grammy Award and Peabody Award.
The USFRA consists of nearly 80 farm and ranch organizations and their agricultural partners. It works to engage in dialogues with consumers who have questions about how today's food is grown and raised. USFRA is committed to continuous improvement and supporting U.S. farmers and ranchers efforts to increase consumer confidence and trust in today's agriculture.
Langan said Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, which represents farms of all commodities, sizes and management styles, is a member of the USFRA.