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Reel to Real: A Food Film Festival Comes to Missoula

This weekend, the first annual “Reel to Real Food Film Festival” will take place at the Roxy and Crystal theaters in Missoula as a way for interested eaters to, “Feast Your Eyes, Feed Your Mind, and Nourish Your Soul.”

Organized in part by the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition, the festival will include a showing of “Eat at Bill’s,” a documentary about the Monterey Farmers’ Market and “Two Angry Moms,” which links the health of our children to school food. On Sunday, the event will culminate with the acclaimed film, “The Real Dirt on Farmer John.”

In this personal reflection on the agro-food system, Farmer John begins by asking, “What do you do when nothing is left?” In response, he takes a bite out of his soil.

For the Northern Illinois farmer, metaphors like eating dirt when nothing else is left seem to come easily. Even the land is more akin to a theater, with parts that move in leading and supporting roles to turn seeds into food. At times, John also plays a surprising part, and wears costumes that seem more fitting on a stage: candy cane stripped hats, orange boas and a silver body suit.

With each costume and each frame of film it is clear that John is not your typical farmer. And while he is unique, his story is strikingly similar to that of so many family farmers in the United States who have lost their farms and watched their small towns decline.

The end of a family line of farmers, John describes a dreamy childhood on the farm. He illustrates these memories with beautiful home movies of he and his sisters who ride tractors and laugh when the cow drinks from the kiddy pool. And while this footage will make you yearn for that time, the film is most stunning because it personalizes the distinct changes that have taken place in agriculture.

For John, his simple childhood quickly and unexpectedly turns into an adulthood of running the farm when his father becomes ill and dies. As he takes on the added duties he decides to also enroll in nearby Beloit College, where he meets the hippies and counter-culture revolutionaries who change his views on life, inhabit his farm and, in the end, make him an outcast in his hometown.

The freedom of the ’60s quickly falters with the economic decline of the 1970s and ’80s, when farming grew debt and heartache instead of crops. And as John laments, “by the ’80s everyone was gone.” For John, this is the darkest period of his life, and he recalls it with honesty if not with a bit of theatrical flair. He details the difficulty of making decisions about the farm and the shame he felt for having to do what he did.

Through this angst the movie certainly provides tender recollections, but it more importantly personalizes the effects of an industrialized and corporate agricultural complex that has led to the decline of the family farm in America. But Farmer John’s tenacious story also elucidates the way the local-food movement has fostered a recent resurgence of those family farms, and ultimately, the movie reveals the quirky delight of a man who finds out that the “nothing” that is left is everything he needs.

Tickets for this event are on sale at Rockin’ Rudy’s, the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center, and the Missoula Food Bank. Prices are $5 per movie or $25 for all showings and the Closing Party at Biga Pizza. Call 880-0543 for more information.

Calendar of events:

Feb. 22
5:15 Pre-movie gathering, 515 Restaurant
7:15 “Eat at Bill’s” at the Roxy Theater

Feb. 23
2:00 Family Matinee, Crystal Theatre
7:15 “Two Angry Moms” at the Roxy Theater

Feb. 24
2:00 “The Real Dirt on Farm John,” at the Crystal Theatre
5:00 Closing Party, Biga Pizza $10 all-you-can-eat fundraiser for the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition.

About Kisha Lewellyn Schlegel

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