If you’ve ever spent any time on a farm, you know the sound of the wind through the leaves on the trees and vines. You know the blend of sound and silence that’s totally unlike the sometimes-muffled, sometimes-raucous but ever-present cacophony of the city. You know how the trees and the solitary buildings delineate spaces in the sky, the way stars stud the nighttime heavens, and how manmade lights punctuate the darkness. People who inhabit such places tend to be hearty types who partner with the earth and with the animals they raise.
But you may not know what a brutally unending battle with nature—insects, wild creatures, viruses, weather and more—such people continuously engage in to bring produce and meat and poultry to market so we can all eat.
Whether you’ve spent time of a farm or not, you can get some of those feelings from watching the movie Runoff, a film by biochemist Kimberly Levin. The whole film is a compassionate yet clear-eyed depiction of how human beings, including those who partner with the earth, can be led to sacrifice their dearest-held beliefs when desperation strikes—when their own survival and that of their families is at stake. The movie intersperses shots of sparkling brooks and crowded animal pens with heart-rending scenes of souls torn by feeling they have no choice.
Joanne Kelly stars as the main character, Betty—a farmer, a farmer’s wife, a beekeeper, a mother, and a woman with a conscience. She and her husband are struggling to maintain their living in the face of overwhelming competition from agri-giant Grigas, which threads farm country roads with its massive white trucks, dispensing chemicals, fertilizers and antibiotics at prices impossible to match.
Betty is made fully human by first showing her at her best in each of her roles. In one scene she surprises her older teenage artist son by suggesting they stop pretending to themselves. “Let’s fire up your pipe,” she says with a little smile. “It’s a bong, Mom,” he says as they climb out on the roof to light up and enjoy the stars. Then we feel the rift in her as her husband’s health declines and she slowly realizes she must take on the burden of their survival. And soon faces moments of agonizing choice—live by her beliefs or relieve her own immediate pain, consequences be damned.
It’s interesting to note that many of the older characters—old-hand farmers of baby-boomer age and older—seem to have the resignation that comes from having fought the battle so long, they’ve given up worrying about principles and just do what has to be done.
Poignant moments of love and simple depictions of the harsh realities of farm life build a multi-layered backdrop for this powerful eco-tale of compassion, conscience and compromise.
To be released in theaters on June 26 by Monterey Media.