Behind the Scenes – “Homeplace Under Fire”

We both grew up around farms – Catherine was raised on a small farm in the outskirts of Charlottesville, VA, and Elena grew up in rural Iowa. But not until this project did we truly understand the challenges and hardships that family farmers have faced and continue to face in the U.S. Through the stories of the brave farm advocates chronicled in the film, we also learned about the incredible strength and perseverance that farmers possess.

Homeplace Under Fire is a 30-minute documentary commissioned by Farm Aid to mark the 30th anniversary of the organization founded in the ’80s by Willie Nelson. The organization and the annual benefit concert supports and celebrates farmers. It was born out of Willie’s observation, as he traveled around America’s heartland, that something wasn’t right. America’s family farmers were losing their land and livelihood, and they needed help.

The film chronicles the farm crisis of the 1980s. It shares the deeply personal stories of several grassroots farm advocates who taught themselves how to fight for their rights and used their knowledge to help others. It was important to Farm Aid that the film not feel like a self-congratulatory promotional video. While one of the strategic goals of the project was to raise awareness about the work of the organization, they did not want it to feel like it was about them. Our approach to doing this was to incorporate Farm Aid into the story. When and why did they come on the scene? How does that fit into the overall picture of the farm crisis and the work they continue to do today to support farmers and farm advocates? This approach allows the film to still feel like a story (rather than a promotional video) while creating a deeper more meaningful connection with the work of the organization, and therefore with the organization itself.

Elena at the USDA.

Elena at the USDA.

One of our goals for each video we work on is that it can be positioned strategically to make the most impact and reach the target audience in a meaningful way. Farm Aid organized a screening of Homeplace Under Fire at the USDA and invited government officials from the Department of Agriculture as well as farm advocates and farmers to the event. The film was used to educate those in attendance and to spark a discussion between people who have been historically at odds.

A panel of USDA administrators, farmers, and farm advocates followed the film screening.

A panel of USDA administrators, farmers, and farm advocates followed the film screening.

The screening was followed by a lively discussion between government officials and farmers, many of whom are still hurting. It was incredible for us to see how storytelling can be used as a tool to encourage discussion, and possibly even change policy. Farm Aid then organized a series of screenings across the country to encourage similar discussions.

This strategy has been used by other organizations we’ve worked with, regardless of if the video is 30 minutes or five minutes. The video is still used as the draw for the event and the emotional hook to kick off larger conversations.