Written by Graham Holford
Last night's 45th Annual Athens International Film and Video Festival opened with a documentary double bill, Farmsteaders and The Last Honey Hunter. Both stories were about people who live their lives in rural spaces. Both show the physical and emotional struggle of making a living outside of the city.
Farmsteaders tells the story of the Nolan family. A family of dairy farmers in southern Ohio. Filmed over five years, it shows how the Nolan family depend upon local businesses to get by, which is not easy. A fire in Athens has a pretty devastating financial impact on the family and the film does not shy away from showing this.
Though nothing is easy for the them, the Nolans get through their daily struggles with humor and dignity and as a family. What struck me about spending time with the Nolan clan, was how compelling it was to watch a functional family. The matriarch berates her son for using the word “girl’ as a pejorative. The father curses the birth of a calf being a bull; a little miracle that costs them money. Little moments like these settle in my mind and make me smile.
Though unflinching and not a totally optimistic tale, I left the viewing of Farmsteaders wanting to spend more time with this family.
The stunning photography in The Last Honey Hunter almost has a vertiginous effect on its viewer. The film's subject goes to extreme lengths to capture this precious honey. A syrup that is far more potent than the stuff one puts on toast as it can poison a person.
The film's images are reminiscent of Aguirre, the Wrath of God, such as when the steam rises through the lush, green mountains. Though the film's honey hunter is not as bombastic as Klaus Kinski, he certainly goes to extreme lengths.
Indeed, it's hard to shake the image of these people hanging off a homemade rope ladder, extracting a honeycomb on a mountain whilst covered in bees.