Film documentary highlights struggle of farm families to stay on the land

Although this film is made in America, a number of Canadians who have seen it have felt the all-inclusiveness of its application across the prairies both sides of the border. The producers particularly invite Canadians near enough to get to Ellensburg this weekend to view the film and perhaps assist in getting it shown in Canada.

DRYLAND Save the Date card Ellensburg FF

DRYLAND documentary comes to Ellensburg, Washington, as an Official Selection of the 2014 Ellensburg Film Festival.

A small town in the American West struggles for survival, fueled by ingenuity, heart…and axle grease.

Dryland is an intimate portrait of rural America in transition, through the eyes of a young man pursuing his dream and a town fighting to survive. The 62-minute film will screen in Ellensburg, Saturday, October 4 at 4:15 p.m., at Central Washington University’s Student Union and Recreation Center.

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Directors Sue Arbuthnot and Richard Wilhelm, along with composer Mark Orton (Nebraska, The Real Dirt on Farmer John) will be present to spark conversation about the need to preserve family farms and reinvigorate local towns, while bridging gaps in understanding between urban and rural Americans.

Told over ten years, Dryland allows rare access into the desires and obstacles experienced by those who grow our food—now just 1% of Americans. While Josh Knodel yearns to remain on his 4th generation Eastern Washington wheat farm, forces of advancing technology, global economics, and an ever-increasingly extreme climate bear down on family farms around the country.

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Battling rural decline, the tiny town of Lind stages an annual combine demolition derby, in a boisterous, quirky feat to preserve the region’s agricultural heritage. Metal-grinding, exuberant fun, these hulking out-of-retirement wheat combines duel with the same “get-‘er-done” fortitude keeping struggling towns and family farms afloat.

Josh, 18, aided by best friend Matt Miller, 17, is as passionate about winning the derby as he is about farming. But even though their combine, JAWS, often takes the title, Josh’s dream shatters when he learns he must leave home to find a job. Ultimately, through persistence and hard work, his family is able to bring him home and continue the family’s legacy.

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Called “a bittersweet and beautiful new film” by Modern Farmer magazine and “moving” by Grist, Dryland plays a cinematic duet between a free-wheeling spectacle and a wistful meditation on our changing heartland. Contrasting the measured cadences of rural life with the upbeat derby pace, the film’s rhythms are poignantly scored by Mark Orton, whose most recent film is the Oscar-nominated Nebraska. A donated song by John Mellencamp, and a song by Don Walser round out the soundtrack.

The film premiered in February 2014 at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Montana, and has been selected to screen in festivals in Washington, Oregon, Ohio, Iowa, and Utah. A “Grass Routes” screening tour under the banner of Cultivating Rural Resilience has begun, uniting diverse audiences in a movement to reinvigorate rural communities and support sustainable agriculture.

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“Dryland is a both a raucous celebration of the culture of agriculture and an honest look at the reality of family farming…whether the family farm can sustain the next generation is a question faced all over this country and one that is crucial to the future of the food system and our nation. Dryland is a fantastic story of farming, family, community and hope!” —Jennifer Fahy, Farm Aid

“Dryland does a remarkable job of capturing the heart and soul of two wheat farming families in eastern Washington, displaying their passion for farming and their commitment to maintaining their way of life. It provides an excellent opportunity for those of us not living on a farm to see firsthand what it takes to be a successful farmer in today’s economy.” —Tom Davis, Washington Farm Bureau

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