Real Dirt on Farmer John, TheReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 01/19/06 23:40:48
After watching the new documentary “The Real Dirt on Farmer John,” I came away from the film thinking that I wouldn’t mind meeting its subject and perhaps having a beer or two while discussing anything and everything under the sun. At the same time, I also came away thinking that I was happy that I didn’t have to watch one more minute of the film in which he is front-and-center for 83 minutes. This is a film that knows it has a quirky and fascinating character at its core but it is so hell-bent on reminding you of that fact that both he and it become slightly unbearable after a while.The film tells the story of iconoclastic Peoria farmer John Peterson and his struggles to keep the family farming business going despite decades of economic problems and staid neighbors who have spread rumors that he is either a drug dealer or the leader of a Satanic cult because of his occasionally flamboyant manner (which includes plowing the fields while dressed in gaudy outfits) and the relentless flying of his freak flag. Despite the obstacles that he has faced over the years, Peterson’s story eventually becomes a happy one against all odds when he finally finds success when he embraces the growing movement towards organic farming that has evolved as a rebuke to the genetically enhanced and pesticide-treated produce put out by many commercial growers.
Okay, so he isn’t a drug dealer or a Satanist but it turns out that he isn’t the most compelling personality to center a film around anyway–his tendency to flee to Mexico for years at a time when things go bad (because he admires the simple relationship that they have with the land) is not very sympathetic and his laid-back attitude at times seems a little too forced to be believed at times. Actually, a good portion of this film feels a little too forced to be believed at times–a number of the events here seems as if they have been staged specifically for the cameras. (Adding to that suspicion is the fact that director Taggart Siegel has collaborated with Peterson on a couple of fictional film projects in the past.) The film makes some good points early on about the struggles of the American farming industry in the 1980's when many fell as a result of crippling economic policies–towards the end, however, it basically turns into an extended commercial for the Community Supported Agriculture collective that he and his farm has joined as part of the growing organic food movement.While I support the ideals behind “The Real Dirt on Farmer John,” I can’t quite recommend the film–it plays like a film version of a long feature article that you begin reading in “The New Yorker” because it sounds so fascinating, only to abandon it halfway through when you realize that it doesn’t really have that much to say after all.
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