After Winter, Spring


On the farm, the work doesn't stop just because it's winter.

On the farm, the work doesn’t stop just because it’s winter.

(2012) Documentary (Terra Productions) Alain, Guy, Nanou, Alfred, Olivier, the Bresquand women. Directed by Judith Lit

Florida Film Festival 2014

The Périgord region of Southwestern France has been a rural farming community going back centuries. When one thinks of the delicious cuisine of Paris, much of what makes it wonderful are the farm fresh vegetables, fruits, meats and cheeses that come from Périgord. There is a timeless quality to the community where farming traditions have carried on with little change for uncounted generations.

Time marches on even in France however and like the United States, a shift has been made to large-scale corporate farms over small family-owned holdings. It has become more and more difficult for small farms to survive between government regulations – one farmer complains he spends more time filling out paperwork than he does tending to his crops – and set prices which seem to go lower and lower while the costs for producing the same amount of crop or product get higher and higher.

In this documentary filmed by an American expatriate who moved to the area but herself grew up in Pennsylvania farm country, we examine the French family farm, once a very large part of the French economic engine but now on the endangered species list in a sense. We meet Alain, a tobacco farmer who has eschewed modern methods and returned back to the traditional methods. Middle aged, he realizes his sons aren’t keen on the labor-intensive life he has chosen and likely will not carry on the family tradition and the bittersweet understanding that he may well be the last of his family to work the land is etched on his craggy face but more importantly in his expressive eyes.

Olivier is a dairy farmer who has gone in the opposite direction as Alain; he has modernized in order to maximize production and make it more efficient. He makes as much with more than 100 cows than his grandfather did 60 years ago with three or four cows. He haunts trade shows where modern farming equipment – tractors, threshers and the like – are on display, many of which are too large scale for his operation and which he couldn’t possibly afford anyway. He carries a wistful expression.

Nanou is a rarity in the region – a daughter who inherited the farm from her father. She is largely retired now and her own daughter runs much of the day to day operation. She sees herself as a peasant – and is proud of the appellation. She feels her lineage stretching into the past, all stewards of the Earth, all feeders of France.

Bresquand Farm has for generations turned out some of the best foie gras in France. Unlike factory farms where the geese are stuck in windowless boxes and force fed non-stop, they allow the geese to wander freely on their beautiful rustic property. Yes, they do force feed the geese but it is something they do with reverence and love for the animals, which seems a bit contradictory when you are stuffing unwanted food down their gullet. Still, they try to be as humane as possible.

Albert is an old man who has lived on his farm his entire life. A neighbor of Lit’s, he has a vineyard which he tends as best he can. His entire family come to help him harvest, or at least a good portion of them. At one time, there were many on the farm helping out and harvest time was a big party. Now, as his life is coming to an end (he passed away shortly after filming ended), there is a bittersweet quality to the event.

The family farm is under siege all over the world. In France, many of those who own small farms feel the pinch from rising costs and shrinking markets. There is less acreage available to feed more people, and farmers are finding it more profitable to sell their land to developers who then build a housing development on it. While they aren’t quite the cookie cutter developments you see here in the States, they are going in that direction.

Lit certainly has a feel for her subjects as well as great empathy for them, given her own history. She prefers not to do a lot of editorializing, allowing her pictures to speak for her and they are some fine pictures. However, the facts speak for themselves that as corporations get more involved with the growing and raising of food, the quality of our food has suffered. While the French farmers talk about the hand-raising of food and how much better the quality of their crops are, the dots are there to be connected.

While the movie kind of drones on a bit in the middle third, it does pick up near the end as we get a few rays of sunshine – the growing movement towards organic food is bringing back the small farm, certainly in the United States and hopefully Europe soon following suit. What I got out of this pleasant documentary is that when we are looking to eat food that is better for us, we have to be aware of where that food comes from. While nobody is entitled to a lifestyle – as I said earlier, time marches on – that doesn’t mean that the idyllic life of the French family farmer can’t continue, particularly as there is an advantage to society at large for retaining them.

The movie is continuing to play the Festival circuit as well as single screenings upcoming in Canada. However, the movie is also available on DVD for those who can’t find it in their local art houses or film festivals. You can order it on their website, which you can get to by clicking on the picture at the top of the review.

REASONS TO GO: Bucolic setting; idyllic cinematography. Makes you think about where our food comes from and nicely illustrates the challenges faced by family farms.

REASONS TO STAY: Seems to lose focus in the middle third.

FAMILY VALUES:  Scenes of animals being killed for food and the force-feeding of geese may upset the sensitive.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filmed over a three year period.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/5/14: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cousin Jules

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Before You Know It

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Florida Film Festival 2014


Florida Film Festival 2014Last night, the Florida Film Festival announced their line-up for 2014 and it is another impressive one. The Festival will run from April 4 through April 13 this year and 170 feature films and shorts are on this year’s menu. While we won’t be previewing all of them, this is just a taste of some of the films you can expect to see.

Last year’s opening night film, 20 Feet From Stardom, went on to win an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature and opening night guests were wowed by one of the film’s stars, Merry Clayton (the female voice on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”) crooning a sensual and amazing version of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You.” While that set an awfully high bar, this year’s opening film has plenty of quality of its own. A Trip to Italy is the sequel to 2010’s The Trip and returns stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as well as director Michael Winterbottom. Once again Coogan and Brydon play versions of themselves, sent to write restaurant reviews but this time not in the North of England but in Italy. They kept audiences in stitches with their impressions and comedic routines but deep down there was a story that kept the interest of the readers. I can’t wait to see what they do in the sequel.

Ernest and Celestine netted an Oscar nomination of its own for Best Animated Feature at the recent Academy Awards and while it lost to Frozen this story about the unlikely friendship between a bear and a mouse is sure to delight children of every age. The British crime comedy Dom Hemingway stars Jude Law as a safe cracker newly released from prison who wants to reconnect with his daughter and settle his debts but that proves to be a proposition far less easy than it sounds. For No Good Reason documents artist Ralph Steadman’s remarkable career, his collaborations with writers Hunter S. Thompson and William Burroughs and of course his unsettling and iconic drawings. Johnny Depp hosts this passion project. 

Joe is the latest from director David Gordon Green and stars Nicolas Cage as a rough and tumble ex-con with a hair-trigger temper who falls in with a young boy whose life has been at least as hard luck as his own. The ex-con takes a liking to the boy who finds in Joe a father figure which doesn’t sit too well with the boy’s actual father. This is said to be one of Cage’s best performances in years and might just elevate him out of the poor reputation he’s had in recent years. The Double is a stylish modernization of the Dostoevsky novella in which a shy and abused young worker, played by Jesse Eisenberg, has his life taken over by a brash and manipulative doppelganger, also played by Eisenberg. 

Gabrielle is a French-Canadian romance about a developmentally challenged woman’s quest to assert her independence. Obvious Child tackles the controversial subject of abortion as a young stand-up comedian finds her life turned upside down by an unexpected pregnancy. Before I Disappear chronicles a despondent young man’s attempts to commit suicide marred by his responsibility to babysit his niece. In Words and Pictures stars Clive Owens and Juliette Binoche play teachers of English and Art who in an effort to inspire students who couldn’t care less declare a war between words and images. Cheatin’ is the newest animated feature by Oscar winning animator Bill Plympton – ’nuff said. 

Crimes Against Humanity pairs a woman whose pet rabbit has died and who has been hospitalized with frequent nosebleeds with a pompous boyfriend whose investigation of sexual escapades at the university he works at becomes an obsession. In I Believe in Unicorns a woman with a vivid imagination falls for a skateboarding punk and chooses to run away with him, leaving her disabled mother behind. Doomsdays covers two slackers who convinced the apocalypse is just around the corner take to squatting in vacant Catskills vacations homes until the food runs out or they are chased off. The addition of two other would-be squatters changes the dynamic irrevocably. This year’s Audience Award winner at Slamdance was Copenhagen, a voyage of discovery of a young man who journeys to the Danish capital to discover his last living relative and finds love instead. Last I Heard stars Paul Sorvino as a mob boss who returns from prison to find that his gang has become inconsequential and the world a far different place than he left it. 

No No: A Dockumentary follows the fabled career of Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher Dock Ellis who famously pitched a no-hitter while tripping on LSD in 1970. How he overcame his addictions and reached out to help others in similar straits is one of baseball’s great untold stories. Levitated Mass is a fascinating look at artist Michael Heizer’s monumental task of transporting a 340 ton boulder from a Southern California quarry to the L.A. County Museum of Art and creating a media and social sensation in the process. American Jesus examines the pervasive Christianity in all it’s different forms and effects on American culture as seen through the eyes of a Spaniard. 

Mail order brides is the subject of Love Me as the documentary filmmaker follows several relationships that were established in that manner and discovers that they aren’t all you might think. Mission Congo details the abuses of an American televangelist in the Congo following the Rwandan genocide under the guise of humanitarian aid. The Sacrament is the latest from horror auteur Ti West and covers a filmmaking crew’s descent into the hellish secret of a Utopian religious cult during a documentary shoot. The Babadook was one of the films at this year’s Sundance that got a great deal of attention; in it a single mom reads to her son from a mysterious storybook which prompts strange and frightening occurrences in their home.

Chu and Blossom stars Ryan O’Nan, Mercedes Ruehl and Melanie Lynskey in a story about  a unique Korean exchange student adjusting to life in the United States. After Winter, Spring is a loving tribute to a way of life that is rapidly disappearing – the French family farm. Led Zeppelin Played Here looks into a mythic concert that may or may not have taken place. 

In addition to new movies, there are some classics that will be available at the Festival this year including the Oscar-winning murder mystery Murder on the Orient Express with an all-star cast, The Big Lebowski which is one of the Coen Brothers’ classics, the Italian thriller Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and the James Bond classic Goldfinger

There are usually celebrities involved at Film Festivals and the FFF has had their share. Not all of the celebrity attendees have been confirmed at press time but two who are on the list for 2014 include Paul Sorvino who will be in attendance on Friday April 11 for the screening of his new film Last I Heard and Giancarlo Esposito for a screening of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing in celebration of the film’s 25th anniversary.

That’s just a rundown of some of the films that will be on the docket for this year’s Festival. There are also panel discussions and of course the legendary parties that the Festival throws every year.Ticket packages and passes are on sale now at the website (just click on the logo above to go directly there) and individual film tickets will be on sale Saturday, March 15th. 

This promises to be another memorable Festival and if you’ve never been, you owe it to yourself to go and experience it firsthand. Words can’t describe the experience but it is fun, engaging and unforgettable. Filmmakers and celebrities rub elbows with film fans at the Festival and you never know who you will run into while grabbing a drink at the Eden Bar at the Enzian. It might even be me.

As always, movies from the festival will have the Festival logo above attached to the review to mark it as a proud participant in the 2014 Festival. Cinema365 will cover the Festival from beginning to end and beyond – last year we posted over 50 reviews of Festival films and related events and we should be in the same neighborhood this year. This is one event that I look forward to all year long and as we get closer to opening night, the excitement is building exponentially. This truly is one of the great Film Festivals in the country – it has been ranked as one of the 50 best in the entire world by IndieWire and the top 25 coolest in the country by MovieMaker magazine. That isn’t by accident; while I do tend to gush about the Festival it is really a unique event. If you love movies – and even if you don’t love ’em but just love to socialize – this is your event. Get your tickets now – you’ll thank me for it later.