Indie Grits Festival | April 12-15 2018

Farmsteaders

Sunday, April 15 at 5:30pm

Plays With: Pak Anggir
Siler City: Bienvenido a Trabajar
Shaena Mallett | Chapel Hill, NC | 57 min
Genre: Featured Doc

Out of the ashes of a once-thriving farm community, a philosophical farmer gives everything he has to resurrect his late grandfather’s land, provide for his growing family, and reimagine a better way to feed people. Clear-eyed and intimate, this moving documentary portrait–set in the verdant foothills of Ohio–is as much a study of place as it is a study of persistence.

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Meet The Filmmaker

We asked our filmmakers some questions about them and their work. For further questions, join us at the designated post-screening Q+A!

Shaena Mallett:

It was February. One of the coldest farmers’ market days of the year in the small Appalachian town. All of the other farmers had moved their stands inside the nearby mall – all except this one farmer. He was knee deep in slush and snow, in the middle of the parking lot, selling cheese off of a humble little card table. He had a bright red beard and a huge personality. Nick Nolan was clearly a character.
The film takes place on Nick’s late grandfather’s farm in the rolling foothills near the border of Ohio and West Virginia. I met Nick at the farmers’ market in 2009, but the film project didn’t start until a few years later, after I had moved to central North Carolina. I wore out the road driving those six hours in between.
I grew up on a rural family homestead in a county that, like the Nolan’s, had once been thriving with family farms – many of them dairy farms. As a kid, many of my mentors were farmers. For a lot of people who grew up on a farm or homestead, that way of life is in your bones. Eventually, I moved away and started a career in photojournalism. Without intending to, I found myself drawn to primarily photograph farmers, herbalists, and others who live within the rhythms of nature. Before I knew it I was captivated by the local food movement and began working at several small sustainable farms.
I have learned there is power in telling stories that we deeply relate to – stories that have the common thread of shared experience. Now that the film is finished, my husband and I are starting a small permaculture farm. It took me a long time to realize that all roads eventually lead back home.

Farmsteaders is my first feature length film. From a young age I dreamt of making videos, but it just always seemed financially out of reach. When the 5D Mark II was released all of a sudden filmmaking was made more accessible and democratic. When I made the leap from still photography to video, I created a few short videos for practice, but my video career really started with this film. The first year was wild – the kids were so little, I was wide eyed and learning every day. So much of the footage from those early days is technically rough with moments of extreme magic sprinkled throughout.
Watching through the raw footage, I realize that I’m the Jimmy Fallon of cinematography. I cannot keep it together and the camera is regularly shaking because I’m laughing so hard. Making a film with animals and with children, funny moments are constant. The barn cats are like an organized crime family and were always plotting. They broke into my truck once and tore apart everything that had ever smelled like food. I filmed an action movie with the kids, got hit in the face with a football, run over by a bicycle, piled on top of at 5 a.m. while asleep on the family couch, wound up ankle deep in cow poop, and got makeovers and hairdos. The Nolans are not only resilient and courageous, but also full of laughter and joy.
Farming is a constant uphill battle. It’s a glorious and often thankless job that only 1% of Americans fulfill. So many people are disconnected from those who actually grow and raise our food. That being said, one of my main goals with making a farm film was to not make a farm film. Farmsteaders is about a family of farmers, yes, and it takes place on a farm, true. And yeah, alright, it’s about a family working to thrive against the pressures of corporate agriculture and industrialized food that have broken our food system. Sure. But it runs a lot deeper than that. The film is a love story, and a story about family, and legacy, and choosing passion and independence at the cost of comfort. Rural life can be so incredible, beautiful, spiritual, profound. It feels especially important to offer a different story – one of resistance, one that is accessible and compassionate – right now as our country navigates a deep divide. I’m exhausted with the one dimensional stereotypes of what is means to be rural, or Appalachian, or a farmer. I think Farmsteaders offers a deeply human story.