Why Chickens? Short story: I met a chicken farmer and what he said changed my life. But, the long version is way better. It goes something like this…
My mother was supposed to leave for Scotland at the end of May to spend her summer in her favorite place, the gorgeous Scottish Highlands, before starting her writing program in Edinburgh in the Fall. Instead, she decided to stay for the summer. She wanted more time with us and stumbled across a flyer for a short film program with NW Documentary during the summer months. My mom has produced films in her career, but never learned every part of filmmaking herself (like being the one holding the camera), she had always wanted to learn, even researching film schools in the U.S. and other countries, including the UK and now was her chance.
Her class was a crash course in documentary filmmaking. She had to define her concept, write the treatment and the script, find her subjects, scout locations, handle lighting, audio and the camera, learn Final Cut Pro editing software, deal with environmental challenges, and produce a quality short documentary… in nine weeks (she came into the 10-week course a week late). Oh, and by the way, the film was scheduled to be screened at the Mission Theatre at the end of the class. Ready…go!
Oh, h-no would I attempt something like this. But, it’s my mom; this is exactly the kind of thing she would take on. She’s hardcore that way. What does this have to do with chickens, you ask? I’ll get there, hang with me, this story’s good. So, she’s sitting in class her first day and everyone is supposed to have their concepts ready to pitch. While sitting there and watching some of the example documentaries, she decides to do something fun and relatively easy: the Scottish Highland Games in Portland. As a lover of all things Scotland why wouldn’t she want to focus on big, burly, kilt-wearing men throwing 120-pound tree trunks? (officially called cabers). My mom’s classmates shared their concepts for each of their films and since she hadn’t been in the class the first week, she decided go last. The girl in front of her speaks up before my mom’s turn and what does she choose? The Scottish Highland Games in Portland. Wha??!! Um…there are eleven people in her class and out of any topic you could pick in the world…really? Really. My mom sat there in shocked silence.
She was pretty bummed, but presented her two other ideas. Epiphanies was the winner with classmates. The instructor felt it was a difficult concept to depict, how can you capture the life-changing moments of epiphany on camera and in so little time, not to mention she was a novice. He felt it was too aggressive for the timeframe, and given that my mom didn’t have anyone in mind for subjects felt that it would be difficult to execute. How would she communicate the concept of epiphany through three people’s lives (the number of people she felt was right for the film) in less than ten minutes? She had no idea. And maybe that was the most brilliant part.
[Update: the woman who chose the Highland Games dropped out of class and never ended up making a film. Ha! The story of epiphanies was hers to make, no question.]
I will let her tell the rest:
I put out an email and a Facebook notice for film subjects and got a few responses. I went with almost the first three that came forward but ended up replacing one story as access to the subjects wasn’t coming together. I shot another story and then realized it was not the right story focus and nervously made the call to request a different direction and two additional days of shooting. I was surprised and delighted to discover that the subject completely agreed.
One of the people suggested to me for a film subject was Jerry Tindall. He had owned a construction business, but he and his family lost everything in the economic downturn. One day while sitting in his truck, he had an epiphany and vision to completely go in a new direction. What he saw included the stewardship of land, family and food. He also saw the need to have people come out of their busy lives and reconnect with people in a rural, relaxed environment. This epiphany led him into the direction of natural, pastured poultry farming. After they had rented out a large farm with other families and had their poultry farming well under way, a man from Sierra Leone’s agricultural department visited Jerry’s area as he was interested in sustainable chicken farming practices. Currently the country imports frozen chicken and eggs and they are often rotten or not raised in healthy conditions.
The morning the Sierra Leone representative and Jerry were to meet, Jerry had a second epiphany in the shower. He saw an entire system that fit into a recycled barrel, using every part of the packaging in farming, and would bring pastured poultry farming to Sierra Leone, West Africa, one of the poorest countries in the world. Jerry and his wife Erika had been working on their website and were able to launch last week just prior to the screening of the short film. Farm in a Barrel is a simple solution for farmers and simple is what Sierra Leone had been looking for in a solution. It provides them with the ability to raise local chickens and eggs, providing fresh, quality protein to many communities.
As I developed the script, I envisioned a farm dinner with Jerry and his friends and family and asked Jerry if we could have a dinner. He said yes. I thought about my daughter and her family and how much they would enjoy meeting Jerry and his family and talking about the connection they had around family, food and land and encouraged them to come with me for the day I was shooting on the farm. And so it was that I shot footage at Jerry’s farm, and his friends the Norris’s hosted all of us on their Sherwood farm and we all ended up around a farm table. My daughter helped me interview Jerry earlier in the day and she recounts that she had her own epiphany moment for her life’s work as he spoke the questions and truths that came out of his own epiphanies and resulting vision. They are the very last lines in my short film, and she tells me she will never forget those words, it is what set her heart ablaze to pursue Freshly Grown without fear and not give up on her dreams.
To think if I had ignored the feeling that I should stay in Portland and go to summer film school, if I just gotten on the plane to Scotland as planned, or even once I stayed if I had made a film on the Highland Games instead?
What calls our hearts is connected to so many others, and yet we often think it is our decision alone. We are independent and can do what we want, when we want. It doesn’t hurt anyone but ourselves if we ignore our gifts and epiphanies… right?
I believe it is true that when we follow divine epiphanies, the path rises up to meet us. I explore it further in a post titled Epiphany’s Call, my short film is included. I believe it is equally true that there is a cost to ignoring these insights. When we see a truth and go back to where we were, giving excuses for why we cannot or will not act on what we have seen, there is a price to our soul, to our heart, to our character and those waiting for us to rise up. Let us have the courage and will to answer the call of epiphany.