'Farmland' won't change the game (commentary)

'Farmland' won't change the game (commentary)

I SAW the film "Farmland" last night, along with several-hundred other ag folks and media types. It was a special, by-invitation-only screening hosted by the Kansas Farm Food Connection.

The event was part of a slow, nationwide rollout of the long-awaited film commissioned by the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Assn.

Walking out of the theater after the closing credits, I was of two minds: (1) it's a great flick that tells the story of American agriculture, and everyone should see it, and (2) almost no one will see it.

Many ag folks should and probably will see it as soon as it comes "to a theater near you." They will recognize themselves or people very near and dear to them and applaud at all of the right places. Once or twice, they'll suppress a quiet sob and wipe away a tear. Yeah, there are a couple of heart-tugging scenes that will get to anyone.

The problem? It is a quiet little documentary that tells the story and moves on.

Extremely well-written and directed by James Moll, a documentarian with all of the best awards on his bookshelf, the film has been kissed with the thing that is box office poison: It is a documentary. No exploding cars, no gratuitous sex scenes, no outrageous stunts, just a plain, albeit well-told, story.

Documentaries are limited-viewing/limited-interest films that are given proper notice only during a few brief moments toward the middle of the Academy Awards program.

The producers and directors who win will jump up, hug each other, troop to the stage and thank everyone who helped make it all possible. Usually, those same people also comprise everyone who saw the film. Okay, maybe their direct families and closest friends were kind enough to buy tickets, too.

Getting the bulk of Americans to devote a few hours of their time and $15-20 of their money to watch and learn how it really is, though? Nope, it's not gonna happen.

After a month of private screenings, "Farmland" will be released nationally on May 1, just in time to compete with the "Amazing Spiderman 2," "Godzilla" and "X-Men: Days of Future Past."

Drop by your local multiplex, and you'll be able to identify the theater screening "Farmland." It will be the one with no one waiting at the box office for tickets. Fan boys dressed as Spiderman, Godzilla or their favorite X-Men character will jam the other three lines.

So, let me call this the great American tragedy — a wonderfully well-made film with a solid, needs-to-be-heard message that will be snuffed out by Godzilla's breath. We don't need to watch that giant dragon make sushi out of downtown Tokyo, Japan, again.

We need to learn how the hardest working among us take insane business risks, work 24/7/365, buy retail/sell wholesale only to end the year with profits measured at just a few cents on the dollar (if they're lucky), dust off their jeans and do it all again next year.

At the mercy of the weather, the banks and the wildly fluctuating prices of the commodities most of them raise, they can be called either the world's greatest optimists or biggest fools, but God help them, they love it, and I'm glad they do.

I'll thank farmers for my lunch, tonight's dinner and tomorrow's breakfast. If you want to thank them, attend a screening, and drag some of your urban friends with you. Make them come, even if you have to spring for the popcorn and soda.

Go to www.FarmlandFilm.com to watch the trailer and locate the nearest theater.

*Chuck Jolley is president of Jolley & Associates, a marketing and public relations firm that concentrates on the food industry.

Volume:86 Issue:15

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