To Make a Farm and other sweet Victoria Film Festival treats

Old MacDonald may have had a farm, but his namesake nursery rhyme—for all its charm and livestock noise-making—doesn’t really tell you how to make one.


Indeed, in the complicated landscape of modern Canadian agriculture, how-to instructions for starting a viable small-scale farm from nothing are divergent, repeatedly tested and rare.


And so, on the heels of losing his own family’s land, filmmaker Steve Suderman takes up the plight of modern agribusiness from a distinctly human perspective in his second documentary To Make A Farm, one of three food systems-tinged offerings on the table at this year’s Victoria Film Festival.


A visual feast of pastoral Canadiana, To Make A Farm follows the trials, victories and philosophies of five young farmers on three pieces of land dotting rural Ontario and Manitoba.


Leslie and Jeff, who fell in love while interning at an organic ranch, are growing produce at Cedar Down Farm and making it work financially by selling advance shares that equal a year’s supplies of fresh veggies for a few hundred local families. Over the course of the growing season, the pair grapples with extreme weather, soil deficiency and the all-consuming, isolating-yet-rewarding reality of this livelihood.


Tarrah and Nathan—world-saver and computer animator, respectively—are raising a combination of livestock and produce to make Green Being Farm pay the mortgage on its own. They’ve been at it for almost a decade, balancing part-time work with pasture-raising sheep, pigs and chickens. Tarrah is the real star of this farm, with an almost awestruck love for her animals that even a health scare in the flock and butchering day does nothing to offset.


And Wes, last but not least, is on the biggest learning curve of them all: he’s just returned to his hometown after 10 years of vagabonding and is borrowing a patch of land to both work and live on in a cozy tent for one. Everything that can go wrong does (everything), but Nathan is quick to ask questions, adapt and ultimately come out ahead after year one.


“The film was (originally) going to have a strong political focus,” explains Suderman in a statement accompanying the film.


“However … I discovered a much more human story. I was inspired by the participants that I found, and their dedication not to political protest but to living every day with a soulful conviction to their work.”


To Make A Farm is less a husbandry manual than a love song to a generation of young people who had all but disappeared from traditional pastoral occupations only to find their way back to the land through deliberate choices, creativity and a commitment to stay put for a while.


The documentary is presented as part of the film festival’s “Feast and a Film” event combining a three-course dinner at Spinnakers with the screening on Monday, February 6 starting at 6:30p.m.  To Make A Farm will also be screened as a matinee on Sunday, February 5; visit the festival website for tickets.


If you want to sate your palate with even more politically-minded food films, check out:


The Ailing Queen

Saturday, February 4 at 7:15p.m. – Capitol 6


Moving beyond the doom-and-gloom look at colony collapse that so many other films have covered, Pascal Sanchez’s documentary follows the work of a young Quebecois beekeeper as he spreads the news about his innovative technique for breeding bees that are naturally resistant to disease.


A venerable celebration of agriculture, work ethic and of bees themselves, this documentary is a beautiful exercise in the subtlety of good storytelling.  Watch the trailer or buy tickets online.


Sushi: The Global Catch

Saturday, February 4 at 4:30p.m. – Capitol 6


What began as a simple but elegant food sold by Tokyo street vendors has become a worldwide phenomenon in the past 30 years.  This documentary, shot across five nations, explores the growth and future of this popular cuisine that has popped up in Warsaw, New York and even at football games in Texas Towns.  Can this growth continue without consequence?  Watch the trailer or buy tickets online.


Also worth checking out is Sips ‘n Cinema (After the screening participants will move to the Wild Saffron Bistro at Swans where they’ll be indulged with lovely appetizers and a sommelier from Cascadia Liquor will lead you through a wine tasting. After the tasting, Festival Programmer Donovan Aikman will open up discussion of the film presented.)


Bon Appetit (Cineplex Odeon Victoria Cinemas 7:00pm Feb 1) An ambitious and talented, Spanish chef Daniel arrives at
world famous Zurich restaurant “W” intent on becoming
 star chef Thomas Wackerle’s protégé.


By Melanie Tromp Hoover

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