By Eva Nivard
In the last two weeks of November the IDFA (International Documentary Festival Amsterdam) took place in Amsterdam. The Real Dirt on Farmer John was one of more than 200 documentary films shown, many of which are available on dvd as well.
When John Peterson’s father passes away in the 1960s, John has to take over the farm while studying in college. After many setbacks and struggles, he is forced to sell most of his land and equipment. Devastated, he works as a writer and moviemaker for several years, but eventually returns to farming and establishes a Community Supported Agriculture farm. There, citizens from Chicago can go to enjoy the countryside, learn about farming and consume organic food. Finally, he is successful.
What I liked most about the documentary were the intriguing characters it portrayed, especially John’s ambiguous character. This unsuccessful farmer comes across as creepy and sympathetic at the same time. The documentary opens with him dressed in weird costumes whilst farming his land, believing the added creativity will be beneficial. John’s mother proves fascinating as well: although 80 years of age, she would continue to sell vegetables at a stand on the side of the road, becoming a source of inspiration for John.
The film also offers an interesting portrayal of countryside culture, so different than life in the city. In a very compelling turn of events, John’s farmers community shuts him out, paranoid because of his decision to shoot movies with friends from college. The documentary adds a greater depth to the main character in dealing with these events, through footage from the time he was little.
In short, “Farmer John” is intriguing, original and interesting. John is definitely different than anyone else you have ever met: he eats dirt, dances, sings, makes art and, of course, he farms.
“The Real Dirt on Farmer John”
Directed by Taggart Siegel
United States, 2005