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Filmmaker Views Rural Life Through Wendell Berry's Lens


How do you make a documentary portrait about a writer who doesn’t want to appear on camera? That was the dilemma facing Austin-based filmmaker Laura Dunn as she put together The Seer, a new documentary that uses author Wendell Berry’s work to explore traditional rural farming and the threats to it.

A director with a lifelong appreciation for the agrarian life, Dunn says Berry is one of those must-read writers and she hopes the project exposes new audiences to his work and philosophy – even if her rather reluctant subject isn’t a big fan of screens.

"He does not regard film as a very worthy medium and he thinks that screens contribute to the decline of literacy," Dunn acknowledges. "What I wanted to do was try to capture the likeness of him and the sense of his spirit and... not so much the way he sees the world sees him, but the way he sees the world."

Instead of focusing on his image, Dunn marries his words with scenes of rural life in the author’s native Henry County. She tells WUKY the documentary examines the encroachment of industrial scale agriculture on smaller traditional farming communities.

"You can't really make a film about Wendell that doesn't itself become some kind of practical tool. It needs to be useful and that's my hope, that it will elevate the farmer as an important part of the food conversation," she says.

The 82-minute film has two big executive producer names attached: director Terrence Malick and actor Robert Redford.

A Thursday premier will be held at the Kentucky Theater, along with a Q&A featuring Dunn and Berry’s daughter, Mary. Proceeds from the one-night-only screening will benefit the nonprofit The Berry Center.

Tickets are $10. 

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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