In Documentary, Farm Family Chooses Hope
A new documentary film about a Southeastern Ohio dairy farm explores family legacy, sense of place, and making the decision to make a farm your home.
Daily Yonder: Describe the movie for us.
Shaena Mallett : [It’s] a documentary film that I've been working on for four years and it's a really intimate look at one family and their experience surviving as a family farm in a rural food desert.
It revolves around the characters. One of the main characters is the father of the family [Nick]. I describe him as a farmer/philosopher. He is just a very wise, well-spoken character who will go about his day very quietly, milking the cows and working out in the field and then just sit and look off into the distance and then just drop deep wisdom about farming and life and legacy. He's just a really philosophical character. The other main character, Celeste, is the mother of the family. She is really down to earth, very soulful, hard working person and just a really wonderful mother and cheese maker.
They're a multi-generational family farm. And Nick grew up on the farm. It was his grandfather's. His grandfather bought it in 1947. Nick grew up right next door to the farm on the end of a dead-end dirt road and dreamt of a life far away and the great world out there. He eventually got into working as an engineer in a food manufacturing plant and worked in corporate food for many years, throughout all of his 20s, and he ended up moving away to Florida. He was the person who helped work on the machines that made Totinos pizza rolls and convenient frozen entrées. He was still working in food, but as far away from the family farm style of producing food as you can get.
DY: How did you find this story?
SM: I actually met the Nolans when I lived in Southeast Ohio. I was in my early 20s and, funny enough, I actually worked for them. We just established a really close friendship. It wasn't until after I moved from Southeast Ohio to North Carolina [and] was starting a bigger project about rural food deserts that I went and filmed at the Nolan's farm once and we just started throwing the idea out there that what if we did a project that was really, really, focused on the one farm, and it just kind of grew from there.
DY: In the trailer, the movie seems like it involves very intimate moments.
SM: Our relationship changed when I came in with a camera. Because video is an interesting process, you just spend so much time watching people, pointing a camera at people in intimate but everyday moments of their lives. It definitely changed our working relationship. And I think it took a little time to get in the rhythm of working together and them feeling very comfortable and able to be candid. There are some pretty intimate scenes in there, and it's been a process of building trust together along the way. I’ve been trying to film in the cinema verite style as much as possible, so just very fly-on-the-wall style, without being imposing with my presence with the video cameras. Which is also part of why the project has taken so long, because I think that kind of storytelling takes a lot longer. It's taken almost four years to get to the point where we can really tell a cohesive and in-depth story.