THE REAL DIRT ON FARMER JOHN (Taggart Siegel) Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
The title of this charming, award-winning doc, the opener of this year's Planet In Focus Film And Video Festival, is apt. Farmer John is John Peterson, a squeaky-voiced, philosophical and hilariously eccentric Illinois farmer who's survived being dragged through lots of dirt.
After the death of his father in the late 1960s, Peterson takes over the family farm, populating it with radical arts types he meets in college. Resourceful and hard-working, he toughs out the 1970s and 80s, eventually selling off most of his family's land to pay off his huge debts.
Meanwhile, Peterson's neighbours start spreading rumours that he's leading a Satanic cult and selling drugs. He's hounded by police; his log cabin mysteriously burns down. After a life-changing trip to Mexico, though, a defeated Peterson rediscovers his love of farming and decides to grow crops without chemicals, eventually creating one of the largest community-supported-agriculture (CSA) farms in the States.
Director Siegel draws on a ton of footage, some from Peterson's mom's home video collection, some from Bitter Harvest, a doc Siegel made about the man and his farm.
While the film tracks the decline and fall of the traditional American farm, it wouldn't be nearly as entertaining - or as enlightening - without writer/narrator Peterson.
With his boyish looks and deadpan voice, he remains as open to new ideas about life and art as the soil is to rain and sunshine.
Peterson and Siegel will attend the screening. (September 28, Royal Cinema).