The Down on the Farm documentary film commission project from North Devon Moving Image supports filmmakers and highlights the real stories of what it’s like to be a farmer. We caught up with filmmaker Michael Balsdon, who is making a film about his family of farmers, and it’s opened his eyes to the work they do.
D&CFilm: This sounds like a really personal film, why did you want to focus on your family as a documentary for the Down on the Farm project?
Michael Balsdon: I’ve never taken an interest in the farming business as it was never something I wanted to go into. When I saw the opportunity to make a documentary on farming I thought that creating a film that focused on my own family would help me to understand a bit more about farming and especially more about the time of year which requires the greatest amount of dedication from my family that being lambing season.
D&CFilm: What have you learned, if anything, that you didn’t know before you started making the film about farming, the farm, your family or what they do?
Michael Balsdon: I suppose the biggest aspect of lambing that I’ve learned more about is the just how large the level of organisation has to be. Sheep are sorted into breeds and then also by the number of lambs they are going to have. Once lambs are born they are held in pens for 24-48 hours and then are moved to bigger pens and eventually fields when they are strong enough. There is a lot more to the structure of the season than I thought.
The interviews that I conducted with my sister Mel were the most enlightening. She didn’t always want to be a farmer with her originally wanting to be a vet, but when she saw that that wasn’t what she wanted to do she drifted to working on the farm. She stated how a farming job does help for her and her daughter Lola to bond and become closer as if she worked a 9 to 5 job she couldn’t see Lola as much. Lola comes out with Mel to help her check sheep and is often travelling with her in the farm vehicles.
Hearing this from Mel was actually quite lovely as I have never spoken to her about whether she always wanted to be a farmer and about why she likes what she does. Mel served as a teacher to me throughout the filming process as she was often the person I went to to get a better understanding about what happens on the farm during lambing season.
D&CFilm: Has growing up a farm affected your filmmaking and the stories you want to tell – do you think you will be planning to focus on farming for your films in the future?
Michael Balsdon: As I’ve mentioned farming is a field I don’t want to go into and so the farming has drifted from male hands to female hands as it is my dad and Mel that are the primary workers on the farm with Mum handling the accounting side as well as helping out when required. This shift was the perfect focus for my film especially when I saw that Women in Farming was a subject that the film could be about. I wouldn’t be as invested in the film if it was solely an informative film on farming as I would want there to be a more emotional and human side to the film.
I wouldn’t necessarily focus on farming in future videos, but I wouldn’t rule it out completely. If I was focusing on the family aspect again I would be up for filming another film. Due to the large amount of footage I have recorded for the documentary I was considering doing a longer film as well as the 5 minute film that I have been commissioned to make. This longer film will be for my own entertainment as it would feel like I’m producing an actual documentary film that allows me to evenly focus on all the different phases of lambing which wouldn’t really be possible in the 5 minute film.
D&CFilm: What’s been your biggest challenge in this documentary, and what’s been your biggest surprise?
Michael Balsdon: The biggest challenge for sure has been the editing process. I have recorded so much footage that attempting to make a 5 minute video is proving difficult. You have to select the footage you think will work well in the narrative you are creating. I haven’t finished conducting the final interviews and shots of the documentary yet so I can’t edit everything just yet.
The level patience that is required when filming a documentary is also something I had to get used to and is one the biggest surprises, along with what I learnt about the organisation during lambing, which I mentioned before. You can’t just film and edit it all in a day, you have to wait for days on end to film the footage you want to film. Lambing season is its busiest in March meaning I couldn’t really film a lot in January or February. Even now it is unclear when the final lambs will leave the farm, so I’m waiting for that to occur so I can film them being moved.
D&CFilm: Has your outlook changed to what your family does or what you want to do through the making of the film?
Michael Balsdon: I have developed a new level of respect for what my family do as they have to work long days during lambing season with Mel working from 6:00 to around 00:00 on some days and Dad doing shifts at around 2:00 at night. The work is tiring and the stress levels are well justified. I never felt this way before when I just didn’t really help out that much on the farm and knew nothing about what exactly goes on during the season. When I comes to lambing season now I will gladly help out as it helps my family out and they really appreciate it. I still wouldn’t want to take up farming as a future career as I am more interested in media and creating videos and as I’ve said I will help out my family when I’m needed.
D&CFilm: Thank you Michael!
top image: Michael’s mum and sister with the sheep during the lambing season