This Thursday WUWF and other local partners will be hosting a screening of a new film about Wendell Berry at the From the Ground Up Community Garden. Lindsay Myers spoke with the film’s director and producer, Laura Dunn.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
That’s from Wendell Berry’s ‘Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” And the poem captures many of the themes the film “Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry” also capture- an expansive love of the land, a concern for the future, a critique of the renunciation of a rural and agrarian lifestyle by those inexperienced with its nuance.
For Laura Dunn, the filmmaker and director of “Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry” the challenge of making the film was capturing Berry’s perspective.
"It’s easy to get in your own little bubble and think everything’s okay. And I think Wendell is kind of crying out from the wilderness in there’s rural places and saying 'we’re the sacrifice zone' and don’t, kind of, kid yourself in your little urban bubble that everything is okay, because if we lose the land and our connection to the land that’s going to effect you too."
Berry was born in 1934 in Kentucky and has spent much of his life in that same corner of America thinking and writing about the changes he has witnessed and experienced.
Laura Dunn explains, "I think that you have a thinker who is really important because he sees things before everyone else does so he’s worth listening to… he has that kind of mind and he’s been looking at these questions about his own place for a long time … Sometimes we become so information based that we don’t look behind the information to examine the greater forces at work."
Berry’s considered disregard for technology and screens presented a challenge for Dunn. The subject of her documentary predicated his involvement on not being on screen—at all. This shaped the film so that it’s not so much a lens on Wendell Berry but a piece of filmmaking that invites the viewer in on Berry’s own lens on the world.
This approach worked for Dunn because it mirrors Berry’s writing which engages the reader to wrestle with themselves and their place in the world. Dunn wanted her film to invite a response rather than send a single message. It also fits with her own experience of learning.
"I don’t want someone to tell me what to do so I think that that's kind of how I make the film. I’m trying to create a space where the viewer to find his or her own connection to the material because I think that kind of personal connection and what springs from that is much more powerful and motivating than anything I could dictate.”
But if she did want filmgoers to leave with something?
"I really want to sensitize people, to encourage people in rural communities, help them see that they are seen and respected, not some gross caricature. And for the urban viewers to sensitize them that all these places that you drive through or fly over that they’re full of beauty and complexity and knowledge and that these are not throwaway places."
In his poetry, novels, and essays Berry defends traditional generational agrarian life and the values of community and interdependence that lifestyle engenders. Despite the current divides in American culture Berry’s commitment to the virtue of hope continues to inspire Dunn.
"When I would express a kind of hopelessness and despair he would always talk about how to…work on a scale that’s humane, in your own community, with your own neighbors and the people you’re around. There’s accountability, there’s possibility, there’s a scale at which you can make a difference and I think that’s so important… getting people together for a screening...using this film to build community, I can’t think of anything Wendell would approve of more.”
“Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry” will be presented this Thursday, November 16 at 7 p.m. at the Ground Up Community Garden on Haynes street. Gates open at 6:30 and the event is free, but requires a ticket reservation.