Our bodies fail us. People fail us. Even our land fails us. These misfortunes intersect in The Real Dirt on Farmer John, Taggart Siegel’s soulful ode to a northern Illinois man’s grueling farming experience throughout the years. After the death of his father, it was John Peterson’s duty to maintain the family farm, which he worked while attending classes at a local college where he fell in with a group of hippies. The joy of this film is its many angles. Hold it up to the light and it reveals itself as a playful portrait of eccentricity. Turn it around and it becomes an intricate study of how superstition and prejudice builds. Give it another flip and it becomes a testament to family. Siegel compresses these angles, evoking how Peterson’s peculiarity—he’s a straight man with an effeminate disposition—came to be regarded as a threat by the local community. Way before the family farms in the area started to disappear, Peterson sells much of his land and equipment to the same people who will go on to accuse him of being a drug dealer, cult worshipper, and murderer—the same people he would go to bat for by putting on a play for local communities that gave a voice to farmers whose dreams were squashed, ostensibly by the rise of corporate farming giants like Monsanto. His reward: more gossip and accusations of homosexuality, which one promoter saw as the curable kink that prevented Peterson’s message from reaching other communities. In the end, Peterson’s success hinges on his dedication to his family (namely his mother, who needed her son to farm so she could sell the fruits of his labor in a stand located outside her house) and his embrace of organic farming. The death of Peterson’s mother is a heartbreaker, but he manages to turn tragedy into triumph, reinventing his family to include the people who sponsor his way of life and the children and refugees in the area who come to his farm to learn about how he grows food and raises animals. The Real Dirt on Farmer John is the healthiest film on the block—it evokes a sense of life, land, and people in a constant state of recycling. The uncynical message of the film is that with a little bit of work, our bodies, our neighbors, and our land may reward us with a healthy does of longevity.
- Slowhand Cinema Releasing
- 82 min
- Taggart Siegel
- John Peterson
- John Peterson
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