Film Reviews

Review: ‘The Seer’

Hot Docs 2016

Courtesy of Hot Docs


The Seer: A Portrait of Wendell Berry
(USA, 82 min.)
Dir. Laura Dunn, Jef Sewell
Programme: Artscapes (International Premiere)

Wendell Berry, born in Henry County Kentucky in 1934, is the author of more than forty works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. “Mr. Berry’s sentences,” wrote the New York Times Book Review, “are exquisitely constructed, suggesting the cyclic rhythms of his agrarian world.” The Seer is a film about Berry the writer, but also the farmer and the teacher, and his relationship with his native agrarian Kentucky farmland. The film sneaks up on you through its humble style and shy wisdom, communicated through Berry’s prose along with artistically framed observational shots of agriculture life (carefully composed by Richard Linklater’s longtime DP Lee Daniel). Interviews with Berry’s neighbours and fellow farmers reveal the day-to-day struggles to subsist in rural Kentucky in an era of rapid industrialization and corporatization of the modern farming landscape.

According to the film, corporate farming structures were put in place during the 1970’s by US Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz, whose policies favoured an all-profit farming system informed by his “adapt or die” philosophy. And while the 80’s and 90’s brought hard times to the small farming community of Warren County, The Seer is a hopeful glimpse in to what the future of farming could look like, and the film gracefully reminds us of the need to honour our rural communities and change our relationship with the land.

Warren County seems to be experiencing a comeback centered on organic, local farming, and Wendell Berry is the consciousness of this comeback. “To cherish what remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope of survival,” Berry wrote. The Seer champions this statement and inspires us all to be more mindful of where our food comes from, and to appreciate the people and places we might otherwise overlook.

The Seer screens:
-Wednesday, May 4 at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 9:15 PM
-Thursday, May 5 at Cineplex Scotiabank at 3:45 PM
-Sunday, May 8 at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 8:45 PM

Please visit the POV Hot Docs hub for more coverage on this year’s festival.

Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8. Visit www.hotdocs.ca for more information.