By exploring traditional, sustainable farming in his documentary, James Cox is also highlighting the challenges ahead for farmers. For his Down on the Farm commission from North Devon Moving Image (NDMI). James got in touch with a farming family of 5 generations. He tells us about what he’s learned and how Brexit was broached.
D&CFilm: How did you come across farmer Wayne Copp and what was it about his story that you wanted to tell?
James Cox: The commission was based around a number of categories, which the applying filmmaker had to chose in order to based their film around.
As a keen student of history I decided to go for the ‘Farming through the generations’ category with an aim at bringing to life age old photographs from rural areas.
However, being based away from North Devon and having no grasp on rural farming in the area at the time, I reached out to the commissioner and asked if they had any contributors or know of any farmers that would be interesting in collaborating.
Thankfully the commissioner put me in contact with Wayne, who’s close and extended family have been farming in North Devon for 5 generations.
After speaking briefly to Wayne on the phone, I knew that I wanted to work with him. His personality and ability to speak openly and with insight were very attractive qualities and after hearing more about his ethos and sustainable farming practice, I was all but sold. We spoke on the phone for around an hour, throughout which Wayne described his and his families vast farming history, his thoughts on modern farming practice in the UK and his thoughts on his children becoming the next generation of Copp’s to work the land.
I’m not entirely sure how, but the subject of Brexit was brought up and Wayne started telling me about his fears for the future of British agriculture following the uncertainty generated by the referendum. I felt that this was an opportunity to include this contemporary issue and to look back, comparing it to issues faced by farmers of yesteryear.
Though me and Wayne were keen to discuss the subject, we agreed that we didn’t want to take a political stance either for or against the referendum. So in essence, I felt that Wayne was able to provide some really interesting information, he was great speaker and an all together interesting chap.
D&CFilm: Bringing a filmmaker into your daily life is a big ask – how important is building rapport and trust with the the farmer, and how have you managed that?
James Cox: I would say building such a relationship is key to filmmaking. Luckily, Wayne and I have a pretty good working relationship based in mutual respect, work ethic and generally just being friendly.
I think Wayne appreciates my genuine interest in his work and for my part, I really appreciate his contribution and what he has to say. Wayne is a very busy man, as all farmers are, so I’ve tried to use as little of his time as possible and Wayne has been great at fitting me into his busy schedule. Communication has been key, especially due to his rural location and my being based on the other side of the county. I think we’ve both embraced the notion of collaborating wholeheartedly and from day one we’ve had a pretty solid relationship.
D&CFilm: What style is the documentary taking?
James Cox: The film is still taking shape but it’s kind of a blend between an expository and a observational documentary. Wayne addresses the audience directly through interview, explaining his family history, farming ethos and the troubles he expects to be tackling in post-Brexit Britain. We’ve captured a ton of shots around the farm and of Wayne’s cattle from both the air and on the ground so far and I’m really pleased with what we have achieved so far.
D&CFilm: Tell us about you as a filmmaker: what’s your background, what are your hopes and how has winning the Craft Award for motion graphics from the Royal Television Society impacted your filmmaking?
James Cox: I currently work in television, shooting and sound recording for a number of shows for the BBC, ITV & Channel 4. I got into the industry following a number of years teaching filmmaking practice and shooting for business. I went back to university in 2017 to finish off my degree, which was great as it allowed me to dive, headfirst into documentary-based filmmaking. I made a handful of films there and really furthered my practice.
Then after graduating I was invited to a Student Awards ceremony with Royal Television Society: Devon and Cornwall, where I was awarded a Craft Award for my motion graphic work on one of my films. It was great, such an honour to be awarded by the prestigious RTS and it was a great boost to my filmmaking ego. I wouldn’t say it has impacted my work, it was a nice pat on the back and was a great night out.
D&CFilm: What role can documentary play in telling the story of people’s lives as well as some of the bigger issues that people face?
James Cox: By definition, the role of a documentary is to tell genuine stories and promote opinions, facts and figures. So in that respect the job of a documentary filmmaker is tell stories and take on big issues. I’m hoping this definition is reflected in my work. I kind of use it as a working benchmark, so it would be great if that comes across! I really love to tell genuine stories and although we’ve got a lot to cover in the film, I’m hoping we can shed some light on the big issue of Brexit and it’s overcasting shadow on UK agriculture.
D&CFilm: What have you learned during your filming for Down On The Farm, and what has been unexpected?
James Cox: I think the main thing I have learnt over the course of the production so far is the importance of maintaining a great relationship with my contributor. Documentary story telling relies on human emotion, connection and interaction, regardless of storyline or setting. Luckily I have an excellent contributor, great setting and interesting points to cover in the film!
I definitely didn’t expect to like hanging out with livestock but once I got accepted by Wayne’s herd, I found that I really liked being around them. They were really fun creatures to be around & it’s crazy how much they kind of interact almost like humans do. I was only with the cows on my own for an afternoon, but I got a real glimpse at their societal structure and the interactions between the cows and their calf’s was adhering.
D&CFilm: The film is due for completion in November – what’s next for you and how has Down On The Farm helped?
James Cox: Yes, the film is set to premiere at an event held in Barnstaple at the end of November, which I’m really excited about, and my focus is completely on reaching the finish line with this film at the moment. After release, I’m hoping to build relationships within the filmmaking community, forge some great contacts, network and find my next story. But mainly I just want the film to be good!
I’m currently working in television, which I really enjoy & is something that I definitely want to continue. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to dive deeper into the film industry. I really can’t say what’s next until I get there! One thing I can say for sure is that I’m definitely interesting in collaborating with other creatives and I’m always open to getting involved with a great story.
D&CFilm: Thanks James, looking forward to the film!