SS: My first feature documentary was about my family losing their farm. I shot that over a period of three years. It was a very personal story and after I completed it, I guess I didn't quite have the farming topic out of my system yet. I didn't know how we were going to solve the problem we have with agriculture. There was some talk about local food and organic farming and things like that but I didn't really know how that would really work because I grew up in an industrial model of big fields. It was a family farm but we were still a large farm.
It started to really come together when I spent a summer trying to grow all the food I would need for a year, which was really hard (laughs). I come from a farming background and I had all kinds of advantages that way, and I started to wonder how somebody would start from scratch. If we're going to create a local food movement then we need new farmers, and if the farming population keeps getting smaller we're going to have to have farmers come in who have no farming background.
It started with my own question of how it could actually work. I started doing some research and found out that there were people who were learning to become farmers, who had no farming background. My first response to that was, “I don't really think that can happen” (laughs). I just thought that there was so much to learn and how could you learn to become a farmer.
I went out and started meeting people and I fell in love with them: their optimism, their creativity. It seemed to be happening across the country. Everywhere I went there were new organizations, farm mentor-ship organizations, people working on small plots of land, a lot of young people, and a lot of people in the 50 – 60 year range looking at a second career.
I got hooked on the whole idea of there being another way to do it.
tV: What is one of the most surprising things that you discovered along the way?
SS: The kind of risks that these people will take: financial risk and personal risk.
Before I started filming I drove out to southern Ontario to meet two of the participants, Leslie and Jeff. Their place was surrounded by bush and small fields and it was kind of like we were in the middle of nowhere. All I knew was they were this young couple that had just bought a farm out here. I thought that was crazy: what were they doing? I felt anxiety for them driving up their driveway, thinking, “this isn't right” (laughs). And then I met them and they were just awesome.
So, yes, I think it's the risks they would take. They're taking financial risks, and taking risks socially in becoming a little bit isolated.
Wes, another guy in the film, started off living in a tent beside his field and for him the risk is more just putting himself out there. He's setting his hopes and dreams on making the first season go, and he's doing it in a way that it's open for people to see. For him it's a lot of risk taking.
tV: What was the most difficult part about making this film?
SS: I had no finding when I started and through the whole filming of it so it was all personal investment right up until I was cutting it, and then TVO and Knowledge Network came on.
There were a lot of challenges in shooting it on an extremely small budget and I had a lot of help with that from friends.
On the story side of things it was that farming can be a lot of tedious work and there can be a lot of stress and emotion involved in that. It's not always easy for people to relate. If they don't have any farming experience they may not have that sense of how powerless you can feel sometimes when the ground isn't doing what you hoped it would, or your animals aren't doing what they're supposed to do, and that there's only so much you can do.
It's a feeling I understand fairly well given my background but I really didn't know how to get that into the film in a way that could be understood. I pursued it in an experiential way. It's not really an information driven documentary. I wanted to get at what it was like to go through this experience of making a farm from scratch.
tV: What kind of an impact would you like your film to have?
SS: I guess in a way the main message is how VIFF describes the film in their write up: they talk about the film being hopeful. I think that's what it ended up being for me. I thought it was going to be quite a hopeless documentary actually. I thought it was going to be a miserable failure (laughs), saying that farming was terrible, but in the end, “I was searching for hope” was the topic that kept coming up: how are we going to deal with food issues, how can we make the environment better, and how can we do it in a way that isn't just information driven, but living your lives and doing something. I think that's the message that I got from it: the way you live your life, if you choose to pursue this kind of life, it can be extremely rewarding. There's something hopeful in that.
check out VIFF for screening times.