The limited theatrical run of the feature length documentary, Farmland, has caused quite a stir amongst pundits. Directed by Academy Award winning James Moll and funded by the United States Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), an agribusiness interest group made up of corporate giants like Monsanto and Dupont, the film presents a sanitized exploration of the next generation farmers and ranchers. James Moll is an accomplished documentary filmmaker whose work includes Foo Fighters: Back and Forth, Survivors of the Holocaust, Running the Sahara and The Last Days. The USFRA states it is committed to efforts to increase consumer confidence in modern agriculture. How much autonomy and creative control Moll had in making the Farmland will be a lingering question considering the film’s funding source. Farmland screened in New York City during the Tribeca Film Festival. It is possible that a few urban farmers or rooftop plant growers were present in the audience.
The common denominator for each of the film subjects is the desire to educate and dispel negative perceptions about American agriculture. A depiction of farming practices and the use of technology is characterized through a corn and soybean farmer, a beef cattle rancher, a poultry farmer, a hog farmer, along with an organic crop grower. The geographic locations of each film subject spans across the United States, from Pennsylvania through the Midwest to the West Coast. The breathtaking cinematography initially adds a tranquil quality to the film.
Without a narrator or inquisitive interviewer, the run time of 77 minutes was an obvious stretch. Where the film subjects fail to dive deeply into weightier matters such as improving gender equality in agribusiness, Farmland could have been easily condensed for television. The general sentiment of the film subjects is that farming/raising food is both hard work and a high risk career choice. The millennial farmers take pride in their work and are not apologetic. With one female subject, the documentary reflects that the industry continues to be male dominated.
The film subjects are authentic and convincing of their heart message to reconnect farmers with the food-purchasing consumer. However, it is clear from best-selling books like Fast Food Nation and the popular film, Super Size Me, Americans have a hearty appetite for food debate. The USFRA did not take heed. What further weakens the documentary is the cursory treatment of genetic engineering. After the media shakedown of agribusiness from controversial documentaries such as Food Inc., and King Corn, why passively ignore the elephant in the room? James Moll may contend that Farmland was not an “issue” documentary but a character story.
Farmland may have reached and educated a wider audience if it bravely ‘dove into the deep parts’.