See the Seer and Learn About Wendell Berry’s Life

I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve not ever read a book by one of Kentucky’s most beloved and prolific writers. But I did have the opportunity to see the evidence of Wendell Berry’s life onscreen, thanks to a wonderful documentary that opened the Flyover Film Festival Sunday night.

The good news for you — there will be six screenings of the film Wednesday through Sunday at the Speed Museum.

Berry, now 81, lives on a farm in Henry County. His Wikipedia listing says he’s a poet, farmer, writer, activist and academic. He’s been a prolific writer of novels, poetry and non-fiction, and an outspoken critic of mountaintop mining, modern farming techniques and coal.

Moderator C.D. Kaplan with Laura Dunn, Mary Berry, Nick Offerman and Owsley Brown III
Moderator C.D. Kaplan with Laura Dunn, Mary Berry, Nick Offerman and Owsley Brown III

The film is at once beautiful for its imagery and natural sounds, taking the viewer on walks along parts of Berry’s land in Henry County, often including Berry’s poetry to narrate images of landscapes, animals and farmers. But it also illustrates the struggles faced by farmers. Interviews with young farmers focus on the economics that require farmers to become bigger or give up.

Much of the film focuses on the 1970s intellectual battles between Berry and then-Agriculture Commissioner Earl Butz, who advocated the growth in size and production of farms.

Images of tobacco farming in Henry County, from the days when it was cut by hand and hung in barns by laborers and college students, show the physical hardship in stark detail.

The film, directed by Laura Dunn, is not so much about Berry as about a time and place that is fading in America.

During a Q&A after the film, Dunn was joined on stage by Mary Berry (daughter), and backers of the film Nick Offerman (the actor from Parks and Recreation) and Owsley Brown III.

The Flyover Film Festival, sponsored by the Louisville Film Society, continues Thursday at Copper & Kings with a 35th anniversary screening of the movie “Stripes” and concludes Friday on the Belvedere Lawn with a presentation of images and film from Louisville entitled “Sound in Motion: Louisville on Stage and Screen.”