Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Real Dirt on Farmer John. Some funny stuff. Not a lot of funny stuff. (******6/10)

The Real Dirt on Farmer John is a documentary that has appeared in video stores recently, and it's pretty good. Not great, but good. You see, it's about fifty different things, and any one of those things would be interesting, but none of them are delved into with any huge depth. Farmer John Peterson is a real farmer, raised on a farm in small-town-USA, who turned out a bit different from his neighbours. A man who took over the family farm in the 60s, and invited his new friends to stay there and help him work the land. This turned into sort of a hippy commune at the time, while still working as a fully functioning farm, the hippies were actually pitching in as farm hands, lifting the hay bales and turning the soil and doing the grunt work. Peterson was able to embrace the cultural climate of the 70s, which meant he had a lot of friends, but none among his conservative, old-school farming neighbours. Peterson became a pariah in the community. Rumours of murder and Satan worship...why did I capitalize Satan as I would God, I wonder...hedging my bets, I guess. Anyway, these rumours abounded.

Peterson went on to become a playwright, an actor, a painter, an artist in all types of materials, an ecologist and an pioneer in both organic foods and farming co-ops. But through it all, he remains, at heart, a farmer first. All these things are dealt with in a tight 82 minutes, which is why I say I would have liked to see more on each of these topics. The film also touches on the demise of the family farm, the urban sprawl that has taken the place of the food we eat, the tough times for American small business and farm industry, and the problems inherent in the American economic system, as they relate to farming. Not only that, but the film has time to fit in a few rays of hope and a few potential solutions to these problems, many of them possibly coming courtesy of Peterson himself. An eccentric man, a fascinating story, but one that I would have been happy to watch for two hours, rather than just over one.

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