To most, Kentucky native, Wendell Berry is best known as a poet and novelist, but he’s also a tireless activist, most notably when speaking about a subject near and dear to his heart, the American farmland. In director Laura Dunn’s latest documentary, “The Seer: A Portrait of Wendell Berry”, making its Southeast US Premiere at Nashville Film Festival at 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, April 17, the filmmaker beautifully reveals the source of the writer’s passion as the viewer is invited into Berry’s private world, his 200 year-old family farm in nearby Henry County, Kentucky.
The documentary, executive produced by Terrence Malick and Robert Redford, isn’t just a biographic look at the octogenarian writer’s life. More accurately, rather than to celebrate Berry’s laurels as a writer, the film serves to shed light and evoke thought on the struggles of maintaining farmland in a world consumed by industrialization of a once-respected, absolutely necessary way of life. In preparing to write this piece, I did a bit of research and discovered that in the mid-1930’s, in a time of our country’s most devastating economic blow, no doubt by necessity, farming reach its peak. At the height of America’s agricultural boom, there were nearly 7 million working farms in the U.S. Recent census information indicates there are just over 2 million farms remaining.
Of course Berry’s activism where the farmer is concerned isn’t something new. Over the years, the eighty-one year-old writer has frequently addressed the subject of farming in his work. 1967’s “A Place on Earth” takes place on a farm. His beloved 1974 novel, “The Memory of Old Jack” is filled with beautiful alliterations of the connection of man and the soil he works, as is his 1988 novel, “Remembering”.
Poetry and heartfelt fiction aren’t Berry’s only means of expressing his concern for the American farmer. Back in 1970, Berry released “Farming: a Handbook”, a collection of writings on the subject. Having grown up with a grandfather, father and brother who all understand and enjoy the life of a farmer, I remember coming across a particular poem in my grandfather’s copy of that book. In the poem, “The Man Born to Farming”, Berry writes, “the man born to farming, whose hands reach into the ground and sprout, to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death yearly, and comes back rejoicing”.
In 1977, Berry went beyond the realm of poetry where the farmer was concerned in his now-highly-regarded non-fiction book “The Unsettling of America”. Dunn’s film references this work and reiterates Berry’s writings as it examines the decline of farming as directly related to the business of agriculture.
One gloriously touching aspect of the film comes in the honest look at the challenges facing today’s farmer. Dunn’s film does indeed reveal the sad truth of the state of farming today, but thanks to interviews with Berry, his wife Tanya, daughter Mary and a host of friends, neighbors and fellow farmers, there’s an overwhelming sense of hope for the future of the farmer.
“The Seer”, as the title might suggest, invites to audience to see. See the beauty in the world about which Berry not only writes, but the world in which he loves and lives. See the struggles of the farmer. Lastly, see what needs to be done and what can absolutely be done to preserve, encourage and revitalize the honorable profession of farmer.
“The Seer: A Portrait of Wendell Berry” screens at Nashville Film Festival at 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, April 17 at Regal Green Hills Cinema. Click Here for tickets. Just prior to the film’s screening, director Dunn and Jeff Sewell, the film’s producer will walk the Red Carpet. Following the screening, attendees will have an opportunity to chat with the filmmakers during a post-film Q&A. The film will screen again Monday, April 18 at 1 p.m.
Elsewhere at the festival, Sunday’s Red Carpet will also include:
4:15 p.m-“Sidemen: Long Road to Glory”
On the carpet will be: Director/Writer/Producer Scott Rosenbaum & Writer/Producer Jasin Cadic
“Sidemen” screens Sunday at 5 p.m.
5:00 p.m.-“To the Moon and Back”
On the carpet will be: Director/Producer Susan Morgan Cooper, Assistant Producer Ani Karapetian, Cinematographer Alexandra Cooper, as well as stars Miles Harrison, Carol Harrison, Pam Romano and Katrina Morriss
“To the Moon and Back” screens at 3:00 p.m.
4:30 p.m. “Thank You, Del”
On the carpet will be: Director Todd Bieber and Producer Juliana Brafa
“Thank You, Del” screens at 5:30 p.m.
5:30 p.m.-“The Great & The Small”
On the carpet will be: Director Dusty Bias, Producer Ted Speaker, Music Mix Engineer Melissa Mattey and Executive Producer Mitch Fink
“The Great & The Small” screens at 7:30 p.m.
6:15 p.m.-“Before The Sun Explodes”
On the carpet will be: Director Debra Eisenhardt, Screenwriter Zeke Farrow, Producer Cosmos Kiindarius, Associate Producer Jill Eisenstadt and cast member Sarah Butler
“The Great & The Small” screens at 7:45 p.m.
For a full list of all films screening at Nashville Film Festival on Sunday, April 17, or to purchase tickets, Click Here.
If you’ve enjoyed this preview of Nashville Film Festival Day 4, be sure and click the ‘subscribe’ tab located near the close of this article to sign up for free email alerts whenever new content is published. Also, be sure and check back tomorrow for a preview of Day 5.