Linda Mason is capturing an intimate portrayal of British farming life in her film Lifelong Farmer, part of North Devon Moving Image‘s Down on the Farm commission. We caught up with her to find out about the importance of keeping a film record of life and how hard it is to make a film in the midst of cows
D&CFilm: Tell us about your film, Lifelong Farmer, part of the Down On The Farm commissions, and why you wanted to tell the story of Rose Manning?
Linda Mason: Lifelong Farmer is a film about one woman’s life in farming. Down on the Farm gave me a great deal of creative control and I thought that a film focusing on the history and practices of farming from a female perspective would be new and distinctive.
Rose – the documentary’s protagonist – has been living on a farm all her life. She is now in her seventies and has seen many changes in the farming community over the years. She has a very close relationship with her husband, Freddy, and together they have a real love for their life and their livestock. It is a very intimate portrayal of a small-scale British farm, with their knowledge spanning decades.
D&CFilm: What form will your documentary take and why did you decide on it?
Linda Mason: I began filming as an observational piece, which means that I asked Rose and Freddy to try and ignore my presence. In the past I have found this method the best way of recording people’s lives authentically. However, as my relationship with Rose and Freddy grew, it has become more conversational, with me asking questions and interacting with them in the film. Plus the cows are extremely inquisitive, so I couldn’t just be an observer!
Being more of a participant in the film has been a great experience though, and this approach has all sorts of creative possibilities. I am very aware of how much work it takes to care for the cattle and for me it was important to document as many aspects of this as possible. Thankfully, as I am visiting the farm over the year I have plenty of time to get the shots I need.
D&CFilm: How important is it to record people’s live and experiences?
Linda Mason: I believe it is essential! We can learn, be inspired and be challenged by others. At a time where everyone is increasingly living in their own bubbles (not least through social media) documentary is a powerful way of showing us other people’s lives. It’s too easy to stereotype and dismiss others – documentary at its best humanises and builds empathy.
From a personal perspective, I learn so much from and about others when I am working. Film is an amazing medium and I am always looking for new ways to tell stories.
D&CFilm: What’s the role of documentary – to record or inspire? And can you tell the story of issues facing the wider world from the perspective of an individual?
Linda Mason: Both! Recording people’s lives must be done openly: you cannot go into a shoot knowing exactly what you think about a subject and what you want from your participants. Documentary isn’t fiction partly because you have to be led by the people you meet and the events you encounter.
Making films that are inspirational is also important. There’s no point producing a film that’s boring because no one will engage with it! But you have to find the inspiration in the subjects organically and not impose it artificially.
Creating the right style for the film is the way to try and represent your subjects both truthfully and inspirationally.
D&CFilm: How does Lifelong Farmer fit with your other documentary and filmmaking work – are there themes you’re particularly interested in, what other work do you do and what’s your background?
Linda Mason: I’m interested primarily in people. Whether I’m making a film about abandoned towns or depression, I always start with individuals: why do they do the things they do? What motivates them? What are their fears and hopes?
I think this interest goes back to my original career, which was in teaching, leaving the profession as a Deputy. I think it was here that I learned how to make people feel comfortable and find ways of building trust and openness. I now do a lot of work with vulnerable groups. I re-trained in Media Production and then graduated with MA in Documentary Practice in 2014. I’ve been a filmmaker since 2007. I am very thankful that I am still able to use my skills. I also run workshops for many different community groups, young and old, using film and photography as a medium to share their story and ideas!
D&CFilm: How has the film evolved during the making of it and what’s surprised you most during the process of getting to know Rose and her farm?
Linda Mason: The biggest change has been how Rose and Freddy are more comfortable having a camera there; they were very nervous and worried about the purpose of the film initially. I had to convince them I wasn’t making an exposé!
They have been so welcoming and great hosts. Rose is a great cook! I feel very privileged that I’ve been allowed to experience a slice of their life. This is the most amount of time I’ve spent with a contributor, and this is something that I would like to be able to do again. The cattle have been such characters, and I have really enjoyed getting to know their personalities too! Although trying to film when you are being licked and sucked has been challenging!!
The longer I spend with Rose, the more themes that could be brought out, but this is just a five minute documentary, so the post-production stage will be vital.
D&CFilm: What three skills are key to being a documentary filmmaker?
Linda Mason: Putting people at ease, patience and openness
D&CFilm: How does a Devon farm feature in the landscapes of where you’ve filmed?
Linda Mason: I’m really keen to show how the land changes over time. This is not only in terms of how the farm has changed during Rose’s lifetime, but how it has during my visits, from spring to autumn. The beauty of the Devon countryside surrounds their farm. The landscape has changed over the years and there are now many wind turbines. It has been interesting to listen to them say how the land of other farmers has changed.
D&CFilm: Thanks for your time, Linda! Good luck with the rest of the film!