Film Review: BETTING THE FARM (directed by Cecily Pingree and Jason Mann)

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by Ella Martin on January 28, 2013

in CD-DVD,Film

MERCIFULLY, A DOCUMENTARY WHICH IS NOT MILKED FOR SENTIMENT

Cecily Pingree and Jason Mann’s superb documentary focuses on a group of Maine organic dairy farmers who are unceremoniously dropped by their distributor (H.P. Hood, the off-camera villain of the film).  The farmers decide that rather than let their lives be ruined by this arbitrary outside event – or spend a lot of time complaining about how they’ve been wronged – they will take control themselves and found their own distribution company, Maine’s Own Organic Milk (MOO), to sell their product.  If successful, they will succeed not only in saving their own farms but those of their friends, and will create a new, farmer-centric business model.  The film chronicles their journey as they bravely forge ahead together, without a line of credit or any room for error.

Ella Martin’s Stage and Cinema review of Pull-Start Pictures’ Documentary film “Betting the Farm.”

The first shot is subtly symbolic: A farmer works to set free a cow whose head is stuck in between the slats of a wooden fence.  After that there are silent sequences of farm life, solitary farmers surrounded by their animals, all sharing the land peacefully.  Rarely in the modern world does one see, with so little fuss, nature and man portrayed in harmony, each with his own point of view; though it was shot in 2009, it is so simple, unhurried and down to earth as to feel like it is from another time.

Ella Martin’s Stage and Cinema review of Pull-Start Pictures’ Documentary film “Betting the Farm.”

The first words do not come until three minutes into the film, and they are not spoken between humans.  “C’mon, knuckleheads.  C’mon, girls,” says Richard to his chickens one morning as he feeds them.

In the months after its founding, MOO experiences the usual growing pains of a start-up – delayed start dates due to equipment problems, issues with the product, an inability to meet projected financial goals – but with a group of farmers, used to working independently, there is a distinct novelty to the conflicts that unfold.  The business meetings – particularly the dramatic conference calls – are actually fascinating to watch.  As one of the farmers, Vaughn, comments, “I’ve never been involved in anything with a group of farmers, but Jesus Christ, it’s an awful mess.”

Ella Martin’s Stage and Cinema review of Pull-Start Pictures’ Documentary film “Betting the Farm.”

Keeping H.P. Hood off camera as a faceless, anonymous corporate entity was a smart move, and provided a sharp contrast to the real people who safeguard its product – real people it was all too eager to abandon when it felt they were no longer necessary to its profit.

Worth mentioning is the spot-on editing by Scott Burgess which from the start sets up the central, clear and beautiful relationship of a farmer to his land and livestock, and establishes the slowed-down, Mother Nature-friendly pace that so complements the characters onscreen.

Ella Martin’s Stage and Cinema review of Pull-Start Pictures’ Documentary film “Betting the Farm.”

Colin Gulley, Lindsay Mann and Joe Nelson’s music melds seamlessly with the subject matter; a particularly insightful moment occurs when instead of hearing the heartbeat of pregnant farmer Carly’s unborn child, we hear music — the sound of life.

Treating the film with the tenderness of a farmer towards his livestock, Pingree and Mann gently but expertly welcome viewers into the lives of these farmers – dedicated, self-reliant men and women, admirably striving to overcome adversity together and reclaim their power in an increasingly insensitive, out of control corporate world.

Ella Martin’s Stage and Cinema review of Pull-Start Pictures’ Documentary film “Betting the Farm.”

photos courtesy of Pull-Start Pictures

Betting the Farm
Pull-Start Pictures
USA, 84min, No Rating
now available on DVD and VOD
to view film, visit Film Buff or iTunes

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