by Keisha Martin
The Athena Cinema is opening its doors once again to OU Alumni as Kathy Swanson and Vince O’Connell bring their feature-length film, Farmer of the Year, to Athens, Ohio. Screenings take place on Tuesday, April 16th, at 7 PM, Wednesday, April 17th, at 5 PM, and Thursday, April 18th , at 7 PM. All screenings have a Q&A afterwards.
Farmer of the Year follows the story of 83 year-old Minnesotan farmer, Hap Anderson, who sells the farm he worked his whole life on. Now at a loss, Hap and his brother set out on the road trip of a lifetime in an ancient Winnebago all while Hap questions his purpose and accomplishments along the way. The film stars Barry Corbin (No Country for Old Men, WarGames), Mackinlee Waddell (GCB) and Terry Keiser (Bernie Lomax from Weekend At Bernie’s).
Farmer of the Year has been a project long in the making, starting all the way back in the winter of 2014. Kathy expresses that “Vince and I had done so many short films between us, we figured it was time to do a feature...the gold standard of filmmaking.” So the project took off with both Vince and Kathy pulling inspiration from their lives. Kathy, who grew up on the farm used in the film, wanted to show the world in which she grew up in “doing chores, knowing everyone in town, and dancing with her parents at the legion hall.” With a foundation laid, they wanted to create a theme for the story. "I had been watching my 80-year-old dad struggle with staying young and positive and liked the idea of a young person's and an old person's lives paralleling each other" Kathy said. “I wanted to blend those aging and transition themes with authentic dialog and real people. Our intention was to universalize themes for people who are finding their way between stasis and change. So, it's really relatable for all ages.”
The principal photography for the film was 28 days in the summer of 2016 with four additional days of pickups the following summer when the exteriors all matched the same. An official wrap of production happened after a one-day shoot in January 2018, which was only three weeks before the film’s world premiere at the Sedona International Film Festival.
An experienced crew was needed in order to make this film happen. “Our cinematographer was out of New York and our sound person was out of Minneapolis.” Recruiting other crew via “OU grads and word of mouth...we did a couple of recruiting presentations at the school. We reached out to the School of Film, Media Arts, Journalism, classmates. Also, we didn't really want to make the film unless we were able to recruit some experienced, recognizable actors. And we really didn't know where to start, so we just started...one step at a time. And learned about the casting process.”
In the end, Farmer of the Year was finished and on its way to being shown to the public. Kathy and Vince express that, “We want the audience to empathize with the two main characters and to experience a deceptively simple movie that engages serious, universal themes: transition, aging, loss, loneliness. We wanted it to be funny in a human, real-life sort of way. The same with the drama. We want the audience to relate to the characters and feel satisfied when they leave the theater.” To achieve this, they worked endlessly to keep “high production values and score and a project we could be proud of.” Most of all, though, Kathy and Vince want people to enjoy the film.
Kathy and Vince express excitement in response to bringing the film back to their alma mater. “We don't know how many of the crew are still around, but it will be really fun for them to see their hard work up on the big screen. Also, we were in Athens long enough to meet a lot of nonstudent folks and it will be fun for them to see it too. And it will be enlightening for current film students, if they are serious about being filmmakers, to see that making a feature film is possible.” Along with this, they express thanks to Ohio University students, alumni, the Ohio University School of Film for the equipment, and grant funding through a Student Enhancement Award. Additionally, they extend gratitude to “School of Film faculty and filmmaker Tom Hayes...who's editing help was invaluable and Annie Howell, an ex OU faculty member and filmmaker, who was very generous with information and support as well...even after she retired from the program.
Kathy and Vince have no plans on stopping now that they have the ball rolling. “Farmer of the Year is still going strong and, as long as that is the case, we'll keep promoting and screening it around the country. We have another screenplay and we're just starting work on securing funding. Another thing we've never done!”
Make sure to catch Farmer of the Year this week only at the Athena Cinema, April 16th -18th. And stay after the screening for a talk back with the filmmakers.