Saturday, March 28, 2009

Reviews of the CIFF Cut

Well, the reviews are starting to trickle in - check out the new sidebar at the right for the unadultured responses now available online.

PolyCultures Recipe Posted Online

This is kinda cool - Tom and I did a cooking demo at Whole Foods Market earlier this month to promote the 33rd CIFF and our movie. I contributed a couple original recipes, including bacon-beet-granola-grapefruit ice cream.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Additional Showing Added!

Yet again CIFF has decided to do an additional showing of PolyCultures due to audience demand. You can catch it this Sunday the 29th at 9:30a - click here for tickets.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Premiere - Add Your Feedback Here!

PolyCultures premieres tonight at the Cleveland International Film Festival. It was selling well, so they added a second theater, which also sold out - so we'll show it simultaneously to about 550 people!

As you can tell, we here at LESS and NAC are thrilled to be unveiling this work to an enthusiastic Cleveland audience. But we also recognize there's a lot more editing we could do to make it a better movie and there are a lot of new projects that could stem from it.

So we're really interested to get your feedback on anything and everything about the movie - if you've seen it, add a comment to this post!

Also, this Saturday at 7p we're having a party to celebrate PolyCultures and NEO's vibrant local food scene at LESS Productions headquarters, affectionately known as theBase. Email us for specifics: info @at@ lessproductions .dot. com

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

About the Movie

PolyCultures: Food Where We Live is a feature-length documentary movie that portrays the diverse communities around Northeast Ohio coming together to grow a more sustainable and equitable food system. PolyCultures is firmly rooted in the idea that local food is good for the health of individuals, communities, local economies, and the environment. To balance the advocacy perspective, it features many national and international experts who place area food production in the bigger picture of sustainability. The term “polyculture” refers to the ecologically-minded technique of growing a diversity of crops/animals on one farm, but it also represents the documentary’s participants coming from very different backgrounds to arrive at similar conclusions and take coordinated action. The aesthetic is a mix of “agrarian” camera techniques portraying post-industrial Cleveland and surrounding farmland, symbolizing the ground-level nature of this movement.

PolyCultures was produced by LESS Productions in conjunction with the New Agrarian Center from 2006 to 2009. The movie officially premiered at the 2009 Cleveland International Film Festival, where the number of screenings was doubled due to audience demand.

Official PolyCultures press release from LESS Productions

"Polyculture" is an agricultural term for planting multiple crops in the same area, in ways that allow the plants to naturally support each other's requirements, as in the wild. Polyculture techniques minimize the need for outside inputs, such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which tend to be derived from fossil fuels and have a negative impact on the environment. PolyCultures: Food Where We Live is a freshly-completed movie that portrays this method of farming and, in addition, uses the concept metaphorically to describe social efforts in greater Cleveland to re-establish a robust and healthy food system for people of all backgrounds and income levels.

PolyCultures is a crystallization of the phrase, "Think global, act local." A range of national and international experts, such as David Orr (11th Hour) and Michael Pollan (Omnivore’s Dilemma), convey how the industrialized food system of the 20th century has provided very cheap, convenient food but also plays a major role in the massive ecological, social, and personal health problems that are being experienced around the world. Alternative styles of raising high-quality food with minimal environmental impact are shown in action, with the spotlight on what residents of Northeast Ohio (NEO) are finding to work in this climate and in their distinct neighborhoods. They must be doing something right, because Cleveland ranked #2 for local food and agriculture in the 2008 SustainLane U.S. City Rankings.

Cleveland itself is a central character in PolyCultures. Images of C-town range from the urban renewal of the Euclid corridor, to dilapidated warehouses symbolizing the loss of jobs, to the community gardens dotting neighborhoods such as St. Clair-Superior and Detroit-Shoreway that bring together people from all walks of life. The director Tom Kondilas and the writer David Pearl were both born and raised in greater Cleveland and became friends at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in 2000. In 2006 Tom formed LESS Productions, which stands for Lake Erie South Shore. David moved back from San Diego in 2008 to help LESS edit the compiled footage into a movie.

As the principle cameraman, Tom chose an active visual style for PolyCultures that was inspired by Cleveland's post-industrial grittiness. For example, quick pans and zooms help convey how City Fresh volunteers efficiently unload a truck of just-picked produce for distribution in a low-income area on Cleveland's west side. Stylized light and focus shifts are used to portray the countryside production of food, such as kohlrabi and sunflowers in the serene Cuyahoga Valley. Many of the interviews were conducted in the field, so sirens, whistling birds, and passing motor vehicles often accompany the perspectives of the wide variety of interviewees, further linking them to their rural or urban settings.

The speakers were arranged to tell the broader stories in seven "plots,” or sections, without interjection of a narrator. The glue between and within the plots is a polycultural blend of songs, almost entirely contributed by musicians with NEO ties. For example, members of Eagle & Talon and Girl Talk graduated from CWRU and are pursuing their music careers in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, respectively. The aesthetic of PolyCultures and its particular stories may be rooted in NEO, but their implications have potential far beyond Cleveland.

The movie was executive produced by Brad Masi, who directs the New Agrarian Center (NAC), which is based in Oberlin, where Brad attended college. The NAC oversees the George Jones Memorial Farm, which produces many types of food and educates various communities about the role that organic, rural farming should play in the modern food system. Interspersed throughout the movie are Jones Farm workers - as well as Australian permaculture designer Darren Doherty, organic farming researcher Deb Stinner, dairy farmer Harold Hartzler - advocating a return to tried and true agricultural principles of the past. In addition to that theme of agrarianism, economist Ned Hill and U.S. Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (among many others) discuss energy-related innovations that are highly feasible in NEO. They consider these advancements necessary if the advocacy community wants to bring local, sustainable food to the mass market and support the local economy in the process.

Another compelling theme of the movie is the resourcefulness that occurs when people analyze the details of their problems and find things there that could actually be solutions to those problems (and perhaps to others). Examples include turning vacant lots in the city of Cleveland into community gardens with soil derived from composting cardboard and food waste, learning to cook with new vegetables when getting them in a weekly City Fresh share, and using spent grain waste from the Great Lakes Brewery as a natural, effective fertilizer. As David and Tom continually discussed in the editing process when dealing with their footage’s technical issues, you have to "own the flaw" – not shy away from your problems, but find and bring out their creative potential.

On an abstract level, PolyCultures is very much about people acknowledging the problems that confront them and then taking the fulfillment of their basic needs more into their own hands. This is often best accomplished in a way that strengthens connections to the surrounding community, and doing that makes individuals, neighborhoods, and regions more resilient in times of peril. In addition, the movie touches on the evolving role of government, foundations, and non-profit groups in the push toward broader sustainability. Given the economic crisis and the range of health and environmental issues that presently face the world, the timeliness of PolyCultures: Food Where We Live cannot be overstated.

LESS Productions' press release on the making of PolyCultures & doing related work in the future

LESS Productions is a digital mixed media company started in 2006 by Tom Kondilas that presently operates out of a converted warehouse in the Quarter district of downtown Cleveland. Our dedication to doing cutting-edge video work in Northeast Ohio is embodied in the name LESS, which stands for Lake Erie South Shore.

PolyCultures: Food Where We Live is a feature-length documentary movie LESS produced in conjunction with the New Agrarian Center that portrays the diverse communities around greater Cleveland coming together to grow a more sustainable and local food system.

LESS is very interested in producing more video along the lines of PolyCultures. We’d like to work with businesses, government offices, non-profit organizations, and individuals to produce more work about food and sustainability. When designing a new project, we actively try to determine what type of product is right for your needs. We can be as collaborative or as hands-off as you want. We’re comfortable creating videos of any length, and we see value in doing both conventional projects as well as those that are more artistic and push the boundaries of video. We’re constantly improving our technical capabilities and are prepared to film in high-definition formats suitable for broadcast. However, the MiniDV we used for PolyCultures may be all that is required for some projects, particularly those that will be compressed and primarily distributed through the internet. Also, we’re able to offer parts of PolyCultures and/or related footage as part of a package. It’s also an option for us to involve the New Agrarian Center in the process to put their special touch on things.

Here’s some additional information about the making of PolyCultures that may interest you and provide some ideas for how your organization may want to collaborate with LESS on a video project in the near future:

The PolyCultures project began in 2006 when LESS Productions was contracted by the New Agrarian Center (NAC) to film happenings in the local food scene. NAC is a non-profit organization based in Oberlin, Ohio that is dedicated to educating diverse communities about their food system and increasing their access to healthy, locally-grown food. NAC wanted LESS to produce a series of short videos for the multimedia section of their website. The resulting videos were combined, along with additional post-production, to create a feature-length documentary video called The Real Low Calorie Diet, which was finished in late 2006.

In 2007 NAC and LESS decided to embark on another video documentary project that would result in a full-length movie featuring the perspectives of experts in the field of sustainable food as well as participants in the Northeast Ohio food scene. Most of the shooting was done on LESS’ Canon XL2 camera in the MiniDV format, with a boom microphone used for most of the interviews. The shooting from 2007 and early 2008 was edited into a series of promotional videos collectively known as Uprooted: Reconnecting People and Food, which enabled NAC to attract more funding for the documentary.

David Pearl joined the project in mid-2008 and helped shoot more footage throughout that growing season. In August of 2008 David and Tom began watching and making notes about all the footage that had been compiled. They used LESS’ new Apple 8-Core system running Final Cut Pro to create a two-hour rough draft of the movie by the start of October. They revised the rough draft and incorporated new footage to assemble a better but still unfinished cut that was submitted to the 2009 Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF). At this point the movie was given the name PolyCultures: Food Where We Life. NAC’s executive director, Brad Masi, served as the executive producer for the movie and raised about two-thirds of the funds for it. LESS has done the remaining work without pay in hopes of capitalizing on the movie through its distribution and in new work it may attract.

In January CIFF notified LESS the movie had been accepted. LESS made further improvements between then and early March before submitting a 100-minute cut for public viewing at the festival. Since then, LESS has been actively engaged in promoting the film, such as in interviews for WVIZ, the Plain Dealer, and CIFF itself. LESS owns the rights to the movie, but it has arranged a joint promotion and distribution plan with NAC. This enables each entity to do what it does best in getting the movie out there, which should provide most benefit to both organizations and to all the individuals and entities that may be enriched by watching it.