“As I see, the farmer standing in his field, is not isolated as simply a component of a production machine. He stands where lots of lines cross – cultural lines. The traditional farmer, that is the farmer who was first independent, who first fed himself off his farm and then fed other people, who farmed with his family and who passed the land on down to people who knew it and had the best reasons to take care of it… that farmer stood at the convergence of traditional values… our values.”
Laura Dunn is the documentary filmmaker behind the film The Unforeseen, which took home the Independent Spirit Truer Than Fiction Award and was executive produced by Robert Redford and Terrence Malick. Laura’s latest film, Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry in which she teams up Redford and Malick again, is the focus of this conversation. Put this stunningly beautiful documentary on your watch list. I’ve been an ardent follower of Wendell Berry’s work for years and this film is a glimpse into the groundedness of place, community and family that Berry poetically captures with his typewriter. Look & See is not a romanticized version of the farmer poet, but an invitation to see the hardship, character, struggle, neighborliness and rooted love that makes up the agrarian lifestyle in Henry County, Kentucky. Laura Dunn and her crew made a generous film. I say generous because Look & See freely gave me space to ask the beautiful question – how then shall I live?
Laura and I talk about Wendell and Tanya Berry’s impact on her life, Wendell’s idea of the union of life and art, marriage as a creative partnership, the unspoken farm crisis and its implications for young farmers today, where she finds hope from the Wendell and Tanya Berry and in her community and why are there so many comedians listed in the end credits of Look & See.
Look & See is not only just for those with a deep admiration for the work of Wendell Berry, but for those seeking to live an engaged life with a sense of place, belonging, and interdependence with the land and community they are rooted in. Go to lookandseefilm.com to pre-order the film, to find out which theaters are screening it and how you can host a screening of Look & See. You can learn more about Laura Dunn at lookandseefilm.com/team.
EPISODE SHOW NOTES
Films by Laura Dunn (see complete list at lookandseefilm.com/team)
- Laura Dunn
- Wendell Berry
- Robert Redford
- Terrence Malick
- Jacob Holdt (Danish photographer in 1970s)
- Frederick Wiseman
- Barbara Kopple
- Steve Smith
- Tanya Berry
- Mary Berry
- Jef Sewell
- Nick Offerman
- Zach Galifianakis
- Will Forte
- Kentucky Bourbon
3m26s When you hear the word “contemplative”, how does that moniker relate to you or work, if you think it does at all?
6m15s Do you have any practices that you engage in your personal life?
7m30s If someone were going to teach a class on the formation of Laura Dunn, what 3 filmmakers or films that formed you would definitely be on that syllabus
12m13s How were you first introduced to the work of Wendell Berry?
13m30s What was it about his work that really drew you to him?
17m13s I can imagine knowing what I know about Berry, and his stance on participating in films, which he says as much in the film, that this film was potentially a hard sell, but you approached this film from another angle… Can you speak to that?
21m The intro of this film is Berry reading ‘A Timbered Choir’ over images that capture humanity’s mastery of abuse of the land is one of the most poignant segments of film I have ever seen. To my mind, this epitomizes Berry as a prophet who stands against progress without foresight or dignity of history. Did you intend to set the tone of the film by showing how Wendell Berry is not participating in the technocratic system that many would call progress?
23m18s Berry says in the film, ‘When we make our art, we are making our lives, the reverse is also true.’ I just love that line, and wanted to know how it resonates for you?
28m The 40 pane window in Berry’s home is a beautiful metaphor, he looks out through an artifact to see the world. Do you feel sense of connection between Berry and his window and you and your film?
29m42s The title, Look & See, comes from a story his daughter relays. Can you share the significance of that phrase?
33m30s Throughout the film you see how farmers are devalued in society’s eyes by demeaning it as something to get out of, not into (young farmers who went to college). Yet, those who are portrayed speak of their love for farming as a lifestyle, a connection to the land, responsibility and freedom…why is this so difficult to translate to those without connections to farming?
35m55s You bring up coming from divorce and a sense of belonging in the film, and Berry takes this to a universal divorce, saying we all come from divorce, our job is to put two things back together. What was the message that you received from that interaction?
38m From the interviews with Tanya Berry you get the sense that she has quietly been the powerhouse behind the scenes who has made space for Wendell to be a public powerhouse for good, was that your sense?
41m20s What was the impact on your life of being in Wendell Berry’s community during the filming?
44m Do you have a sense if the young farmers have hope for the future?
48m50s What do you hope people will take away from this Look & See?
51m20s Where are you finding hope within your community?
54m30s In the end credits we see that Terrence Malick and Robert Redford are involved. Obviously, they are giants in the industry. But I also noticed some of my favorite comedians listed…Nick Offerman who enthusiastically touts Berry’s influence on his life whenever he can, Will Forte, Zach Galifianakis. Is Wendell Berry secretly writing jokes for these comics or all these folks fans of Berry’s work, what’s the connection?
55m36s We always pair an episode with a drink, what drink of choice goes best with this conversation?
Photo credit: Death To Stock Photo