In the short documentary One Acre, Jo Barker and Holly Black of Black Bark Films teamed up with Dee Butterly of the Landworkers’ Alliance for a film about a young woman’s entry into sustainable farming.
One Acre was part of the Down on the Farm series of commissions from North Devon Moving Image. It gave Jo and Holly an opportunity to deepen their experience of farming and food activism. We caught up with them to chat about their experience.
D&CFilm: What was it about the Down on the Farm project, and Down Farm, that attracted you?
HB: As filmmakers that helped to create In Our Hands and 100 Miles and 2 Mouths – both films about innovative farmers and food activism, we have experience of making films around these themes – and we love this topic very much – so we felt Black Bark was a really good fit for the Down on the Farm commission.
JB: I loved the idea of it being centralised to one area, as it allowed us to be more geographically specific with the story we told, whilst also connecting it to a wider context within UK farming.
D&CFilm: Holly and Jo, how did you get together with Dee and how did the relationship flow in terms of the film?
HB: We have been doing bits of filming for the Landworkers’ Alliance over the past few years, helping to capture the growth of a powerful social movement of young people, so we have known Dee for a while and always felt inspired by the way that she approaches issues with such insight – and we knew Dee has a keen interest in film. As a filmmaking process it was really good for us to work with someone outside of Black Bark Films. We felt challenged – in a very good way!
D&CFilm: What sort of visual language did you use to present the themes of the film?
HB: We spent a lot of time in pre-production talking to Liv and thinking about how best to present her story of being at Down Farm without being too explicit. She is a very gentle and thoughtful character, and we used long hand-held shots with intimate close ups of her and Henry’s day to day activities to reflect this.
JB: Spending time on the farm on the recces without filming allowed us to observe what we felt whilst being there and how we saw Liv and Henry in context to their environment. That in turn lead us to pick more deeply the images that we wanted to concentrate on, ie. the long held shot of them peeling back the netting in their morning routine, which was also a key part of the soundscape we created too.
D&CFilm: How important was it to build a rapport with Liv and Henry at Down Farm?
HB: Very important to us, as it is with all of our filmmaking. Previous to making One Acre we met them at a couple of LWA events and then we visited the farm twice before even getting a camera out! Now we get to hang out at festivals and mutual friends’ farms so I guess we didn’t put them off being in front of the camera too much…
JB: We deeply respect what it means to ask someone for permission to observe them, interpret them and then retell their story. It’s a very precious thing to be allowed to do that and meeting them as people before we put a camera up is key to how we work.
D&CFilm: You were looking at a female Somerset-based composer who is also a farmer for the score. How did that work out and how important is the music to the film?
HB: Ami is a friend who I’ve known for years through Emily Teague, a musician that we have worked with a lot in the past. I knew Ami had been working at a farm out in Malmesbury and Jo and I bumped into her at a farm in Bristol, so it felt very fortuitous to have someone so talented that also has first hand understanding of what farming small scale entails.
D&CFilm: Tell us more about your broader filmmaking and how your Down on the Farm film fits into that, particularly your feature documentary In Our Hands?
HB: Down the Farm has given us a great opportunity to flex our artistic muscles in a way that’s really true to our method of filmmaking. Since In Our Hands we have mostly been doing client based work, and One Acre allowed us to have complete control of our outputs which feels really powerful. I wish we could do more work like this!
JB: With In Our Hands we had a clear agenda and brief but the Landworker’s Alliance were amazing producers, they took a very hands off approach and we felt able to really develop our style as filmmakers. We felt this again with One Acre, with the process allowing us to question a lot about why we would include a particular shot and ask deeper questions to it’s relevance as part of the story. We really thought about every shot, every line and every pause as to its intention.
D&CFilm: What is the role of the filmmaker / artist in society?
HB: Filmmakers have a significant social role to play in society, I think – as do all artists. At Black Bark Films we are so aware of the political and ethical nature of our work, of putting images and words together to tell a story that usually is not ours. There is such a responsibility that comes with this.
JB: In every society there are observers that interpret their environment in ways that help others better to understand it, or glimpse a window into an alternate ways of looking at something. I see film as a tool for compassion, to bring about more understanding and empathy,
D&CFilm: Food politics is key to the future and facing up to the climate emergency. How does Down Farm fit in with that?
HB: Down Farm is just one example of how loads of produce can be produced from such a small area, with no machinery. The veg is delicious (we can vouch for it first hand) and it is a local business that contributes positively to the environment and to the health of the soil. There are so many reasons that we need to rethink agriculture in the UK and small scale farming is definitely an important part of this.
JB: I think Liv is very open about the struggles their method of farming can produce and they are constantly thinking of ways to combat this, by diversifying their crops, growing spaces and looking to their own future physical health. I see Down Farm as rooted in their present in order to learn from the past and prepare for their future.
D&CFilm: Do you think the reality of farming is largely overlooked?
HB: That’s very difficult to answer. Farming comes in all shapes and sizes. I think there is a tendency in mainstream thought to forget about small scale, local and organic farms. It’s a tough job, as Dee can tell you – but it’s beautiful and rewarding, and we hope One Acre shows that.
D&CFilm: How do we keep up with what you’re getting up to?
D&CFilm: Thank you Holly and Jo!