Florence Browne is a documentary filmmaker based in Cornwall whose films peer through ‘a window into all sorts of different worlds’. We caught up with her about her Down on the Farm documentary and asked about her passion for exploring the emotional connections with farming
D&CFilm: Can you tell us more about the project you are filming for Down on the Farm, how you came across the idea and why you wanted to share it?
Florence Browne: The idea has grown around my chosen farming family’s new meat box scheme. They take their own livestock to a small abattoir close to the farm, and sell their own meat to local customers and at food fairs and festivals. I realised that a hugely important part of animal welfare, ensuring a quick and stress-free slaughter, is almost completely overlooked by consumers currently. We know about free-range eggs, maybe we look for organic meat, but we are given little or no information about that animal’s end, which often happens many miles away from their farm and after a long, stressful journey.
As I’ve filmed with the family I’ve also become really interested in the complex emotions surrounding this aspect of farming which arise when caring for animals raised for meat. Small-scale, localised farming where the farmers know the animals well and care deeply about their welfare is so important, but does it also make their job harder? Is it easier for people farming on a huge scale with little connection to individual animals? We’ll see how much of that can be explored in a five-minute film!
I’ve become very passionate about the importance of this way of farming, which we’re seeing less and less of, so I’m very keen for the farm to be able to show what it does and why to a larger audience.
D&CFilm: How does this film fit with the other of your documentaries and what attracts you to a story?
Florence Browne: This is the second film I’ve made about people working on the land – during my MA I filmed horse loggers for a morning in the Teign valley for a five-minute film, which was a great experience. This film has been a very different process, however, with several trips to film the family at different points, getting to know them and the farm and slowly developing the ideas I want to show.
I’ve really enjoyed this way of working – it gives you more time to ensure you’re putting across a genuine portrayal of your contributors, and it’s such a privilege too.
My biggest project so far has been ‘Just As I Am’, a 30-minute film exploring the experiences of openly gay Church of England clergy and the barriers they face to equality, and I’m also working on various projects in Cornwall including a behind-the-scenes series with an animation company, so there’s not really been a pattern in my work so far!
I think what attracted me to making documentaries in the first place is a general curiosity and interest in people, and working in this way gives you a window into all sorts of different worlds. People are always the most interesting part of a film for me, and there’s always a story where people care deeply about something.
D&CFilm: You got a bit hands of on experience on the farm – can tell us about your taking part in lambing?
Florence Browne: I’d spent two days on the farm during the lambing, and got rather distracted from my film brief filming every lamb birth I could see, so I was finally roped into helping deliver a large lamb. They’re extremely slippery! It was the closet I’ve come to midwifery since my cat gave birth a few years ago. The lambing shed was so calm and sunny, and it had such a lovely atmosphere. A lot of contented sheep! It was a great time to visit – I’d also missed the busiest, most sleep-depriving part of the season, and I have huge respect for farmers working through that each year.
D&CFilm: When making documentaries, what aspects are the trickiest, has that been the case with this and what, if anything, has surprised you with this film?
Florence Browne: When you’re self-shooting, it’s often balancing all the different needs of your kit with focusing your attention on your contributors that’s the trickiest part. Making sure the visuals and the audio are good, the camera’s not being rained on, the batteries aren’t going to run out on you and the sun hasn’t suddenly come out and ruined your exposure are just a few examples!
Getting to know the people you’re filming and making sure there’s mutual trust from the start is really important, and that can be tricky when people are opening up sensitive areas of their lives.
On this film, it’s been difficult getting the farm’s local abattoir on board – they’re (I think understandably) hesitant about showing what they do in case of negative online attention, militant veganism and so on, so that’s an ongoing discussion with them. Very often good filmmaking just takes time and patience, a non-journalistic approach to give everyone a chance to get to know each other.
D&CFilm: What do you think commissions like Down on the Farm do for the participants, filmmakers and the region?
Florence Browne: It’s brilliant that Down on the Farm have commissioned these films, it gives filmmakers an opportunity to really spread their wings and develop their own creative voice.
I hope for the participants it’ll give them some publicity first of all, as these are challenging times for British farmers, but also I’m hoping the film will resonate with other farms and farming communities. Commissioning films like these gives a voice and a platform to people who we might not otherwise hear from, and it gives the region a real boost to see itself represented.
I also hope that my film will do some good in raising awareness of the importance of small-scale, local abattoirs, an issue which needs to be talked about more.
D&CFilm: Thanks Florence!