The 11th annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival kicked off this weekend. As this year’s theme is humor, we hope you are able to share laughs with family, friends and fellow community members! There are some food and agriculture films coming out this year too. Check them out!

Dryland

Set in Eastern Washington’s dryland wheat country, the film follows Josh and best friend Matt over ten years, as they pursue their passion for farming and quest for victory in the annual Lind Combine Demolition Derby. With barn-raising fervor, this annual event raises funds for the community of 500, while supporting the legacy of regional family farms. Called “a bittersweet and beautiful new film” by Modern Farmer magazine, Dryland plays a cinematic duet between an exuberant, freewheeling spectacle and a meditation on our changing heartland.

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The sign on remote US 395 in Eastern Washington first enticed the filmakers in 2003: “Welcome to Lind. Drop in – Mt. St. Helens did! Combine Demolition Derby and Rodeo.” Intrigued, Sue Arbuthnot and Richard Wilhelm, the creative forces behind Hare in the Gate Productions pulled into the Lind rodeo arena to observe the drivers’ meeting a week before the derby. “We were immediately struck by the participants’ love of family, land, community and the willingness to fight for a threatened way of life,” Sue notes.

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Over the years, filmmakers returned to follow Josh and Matt through high school and college, as they piloted “JAWS” – a hulking blue vintage combine – in the annual derby. But even as they ride to victory, Josh and Matt witness their town dying. Then, Josh loses a lifelong bid to stay on his fourth-generation farm and must leave to find work. A theme all too common, as agricultural technology advances, and the need for labor wanes – fewer young farmers can stay on the land. Higher costs force farmers to consolidate or grow, and many family farms and the rural areas depending on them simply disappear.

The film showcases an original score by Mark Orton, who most recently scored the Oscar-nominated Nebraska, shot partially in Montana. Orton’s multi-instrumental score deftly characterizes the yearning of a young farmer, his community, and the striking landscape they cherish. Songs by John Mellencamp, founding member of Farm Aid, who donated a song, and the legendary late Don Walser, round out the film’s soundtrack.

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Audiences of all ages and background will be inspired by youthful optimism, generational perseverance, and a town cultivating rural resilience. As Americans increasingly seek connections to the source of food and the craft of farming, and as concerns about food security and a desire for healthier diets have altered urban behavior across the country, this tale is more timely than ever.

The filmakers, composer and members of the cast will be present and available for questions after the screening. More information can be found at Hare in the Gate website, or join the Dryland conversation on Facebook

Screening opportunities

Historic Wilma Theater – Saturday, February 22nd – 10:00 a.m.

Willard Alternative High School – Wednesday, February 19th: 1:00 – 2:30 pm

Sentinel High School – Thursday, February 20th: 10:05 – 11:35 am

Big Sky High School – Friday, February 21st: 7:50-9:30 am

Occupy the farm

200 people walk onto the last piece of East Bay farmland with tools, tents and 15,000 seedlings. They plant two acres of crops to stop a real estate development. After three weeks riot police evict them. But, the crops survive, and their direct action alters the fate of the land. Occupy the Farm is a film funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign. Todd Darling captures the story of urban farmers in San Pablo, CA fighting to preserve one of the last tracts of land for farming in the urban East Bay. The owners of these 14-acres, the University of California, Berkeley, planned to replace this agricultural research station with a Whole Foods shopping mall, condos and sports fields.

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This feature documentary follows the story of how a 14-acre piece of land sparked a heated battle of University opposition, community involvement, legal action and water access. The farmers and the neighbors didn’t just walk onto the Gill Tract to “protest,” they arrived ready to create a completely different version of the land’s best use. What starts as a joyful flurry of hard work and commitment, becomes a very different scene at the end of three weeks. Barricades, frenzied media and riot police.

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As the young urban farmers of Occupy the Farm challenged the plans of this piece of publicly owned land, filmmaker Todd Darling and his crew picked up their cameras and captured the story. They witnessed the dramatic and rapid evolution of tactics and strategy of both farmers and their adversaries. Occupy the Farm captures a significant and on-going conflict: the showdown between over-development of agriculture, as well as the contest of wills between a grassroots, consensus based action, and the more rigid power structure of California’s largest landowner. This film reveals a new form of activism for the 21st Century and is sponsored by the Social Justice fund Northwest.

Screening opportunity

Historic Wilma Theater – Friday, February 21st : 5:00 pm

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