Preservation and Transformation, and rhubarb

Last Thursday evening I took part in the DOC NOW panel, presenting aspects of my thesis film on the family farm in relation to the panel's theme: preservation/transformation.  I presented alongside two other classmates, Tara Ernst and Marc Losier, who are also both exhibiting work at the DOC NOW festival.

The panel was a great way for me to practice talking about my film and the ideas that surround it.  My film is not just about my family farm and its sale but also about the ways the farm is being preserved whether it be through photographs, home videos, a Mackey Family History book, street signs memorials (see image below), or objects taken from the farm and used again (like the beautiful peonies and delicious rhubarb that can be found in various relatives' gardens).

In fact, last weekend I transplanted a rhubarb root from my parents' garden to my backyard in Toronto.  The root originally came from the farm, and my Dad estimates that it's at least 50 years old.  Now, if only it would survive in Toronto...we'll see!  The squirrels have already chewed what was left of it aboveground, but here's hoping the root is resilient!

DOC NOW coming up!

DOC NOW is upon us!  Well, soon.  Really soon.

That realization hit me today like a ton of bricks.  The film's due date has been pushed up by two days and now I'm feeling the crunch.

Press releases have been, well, released, the printing is underway, the events have been scheduled...and I'm still editing.  Despite any confidence in myself to deliver the film on time for its screenings at DOC NOW, nothing can quell the rising anxiety I'm experiencing.  So it's nose the grindstone time.

In other news, I'm heading to the annual Mackey Family Picnic this year at the end of June!  I'm pretty excited as I've never gone before, and I'll have a chance to meet and interview George DeKay, relative and author of The Mackey Family History book.  It'll definitely put the whole preservation aspect of my film into a larger context, and I'm curious as to what the event will be like.

If you're on Facebook, be sure to join my film's page or whatever Facebook is calling them nowadays.

It has information on all the film screenings and related events, including the DOC NOW Panel on May 20th, running in conjunction with the CONTACT festival.  I'm going to be presenting some ideas on documentary and preservation, alongside Marc Losier and Tara Ernst.  It's at the Ryerson Gallery and starts at 7pm, so come by if you're in the area!  Oh, and it's free!

Be sure to visit the DOC NOW website for information on all the screenings and exhibitions.  I'm so excited for all the work being showcased this year.   DOC NOW runs from June 7 to 26, 2010.

A push towards the farm...

From "How food contribute to global warming",

Q: What is a climate-friendly food system? If you could wave a magic wand, what would look different?

A: We would see re-evaluating of the ways farmers work with nature and crops and animals to produce the fertility they need. This is not magical thinking. It's happening on farms around the world. But is it the kind of farming our government taxes support? Does it get the credit it deserves?

Q: Are we talking about a lot of small farms?

A: Not a food system with families on half-acre farms. But we do need to rethink scale. We need to rebuild regional food infrastructures that used to exist. It's not rational to have food grown on the coast of Chile to feed fish farmed off Washington state, which are then processed and frozen in China and shipped to New York.

We need a rational food system that makes decisions not based on quarterly returns of whatever food company, but based on what's best for communities, the planet and those of us who eat the food.

Q: Small and medium farms: isn't the horse already out of the barn, so to speak? They've been gobbled up by developers and mega agribusiness. Kids aren't signing up to be farmers. How's this shift supposed to happen?

A: I just got an email about a Cleveland mall that has turned empty retail space into a greenhouse growing food and set up a farmers' market. Look at New York City and the huge movement to grow on rooftops. Think of the acres of rooftops in New York City alone.

There are now 368 colleges where student activists are farming on campus and bringing real food into the dining halls. We don't know what the future holds.

If we looked at the true cost of our present system and our addiction to fossil fuels, we would see that the new food system we're talking about is not so pie-in-the-sky.

So many articles are coming out every day that talk about our food system and farming, especially small farms being part of the solution to our current food production/consumption problem. This article in today mentions small farms in a way that makes me wish a part of me was continuing the family business.

I mean, I've heard and seen so many things lately that have made me think, "Maybe it's not impossible."  A part of it might be just guilt, and desperation to "save the farm"....but then there's excitement in imagining my life as a farmer. and producing something that's contributing to a solution.  I mean, it would be a lot of hard work.  Not to mention that my whole sleep schedule would radically shift back about 5 hours, I'd never get proper vacays, and what about this 6 year journey towards filmmaking/the doc industry?!  But it's fun to dream.  And who knows what'll happen down the road.  Except I'd totally have a dairy farm.  Totally.  Fa Milk!

"You Bought It Mister!"

After underestimating the amount of work that goes into my rough cut, I won't be showing one tomorrow.  Instead, the rough cut will be completed for next week.  Yup.  Underestimated is an understatement.

Right now I'm selecting photographs that will illustrate the many changes the farm and its surrounding landscape has endured.  I've already posted some of these photos in the blog, as I find them to be a fascinating glimpse into the farm's past.  However, I've neglected to thank my family members who actually took the photographs!  So, thank you for taking and saving these family photographs, and also for allowing me to steal your albums to scan those photos and use them in this film.

Oh, and also articles.  This clipping above was given to me by my Aunt Maggie, and was taken at a farm sale.  The photographer captured my Grandpa (the man below the auctioneer's arm, and I find the caption to be really funny.

Back to work for me!

Workin' on my thesis

I haven't been very good at posting...which only means I'm engrossed in completing my thesis film...right?  Well, kinda.  I've been steadily working, finishing the majority of my interviews in February. This Monday I'll be showing a rough cut of the film to the class....likely  a very, very rough cut.

I'm a treasurer for the DOC NOW thesis festival, so that's been eating a lot of my time.  But it's a fun experience so far, and I'm getting really excited for the festival.

And speaking of, it also means deadlines for submitting things to the thesis catalog and whatnot.  I've been digging into the archives of my recent photography of the farm to try and find something worth representing my film.  Perhaps I should have put more thought into figuring out what that one photograph would be.  I narrowed it down to two photos.

The first is very romantic, but I feel like viewing it on a website won't necessarily grab people.  It does speak more to archives and memory, but....

...I feel like this image really says it all.  Development encroaching on the farm, and I think it also fires the imagination in terms of what others kinds of issues can arise from that.

Which is a better representation of the film???  I'm not sure yet...

In other news, I'll be heading to Hot Doc's DOC U program in May!  I can excitedly announce that I've been accepted into the week-long program and will promise to blog each and every day.  I'm totally taking the entire week off to indulge in everything documentary, and immerse myself in the festival experience.  May....wait, that's when my film needs to be done right?


Dreams for a Dairy Farm

January 22, 2010Preliminary Interview with Dad

Kathleen: What's going to happen to the farm once you decide to retire.  Especially since our family will no longer be a farming one.

Dad: Oh, I don't know.

Kathleen: What do you mean?  Wait--do you think one of us (my two sisters and I) will take it over?  Seriously?

Dad: Well, who knows.

Kathleen: Dad, you honestly think one of us might swoop in a save our family livelihood?  Well, okay, fine but I'm turning it back into a dairy farm.  [laughs] How much would that cost---uh, nevermind cost.  But it's going to be organic milk sold locally.  There's gotta be a market for that right?  And we can name it something....well, what would you call it?

Dad: Fa Milk.

Kathleen: Why Fa Milk?  How do you spell that?  F-A-H or F-A--

Dad: F-A.  Fa Milk.  So when you go out you can say, "I'm going out FA MILK!".

Kathleen: I'm not sure I get it.

Dad: You know, Fa Milk.  For milk.  Going out FOR milk.  Fa Milk.

Kathleen: Uh...maybe....well, we'll see.

I found this exchange quite hilarious.  And note, it's not word for word.  This is the best my memory can do unfortunately.

The Vertical Farm Project makes a good point...

"We cannot go to the moon, Mars, or beyond without first learning to farm indoors on earth."

I must admit, the idea of vertical farming reminds me of the sci-fi lore of the mid 20th century that imagined what the world might look like in the late 20th to early 21st century (see example above).

Vertical farming seems like a logical idea though, especially in Southern Ontario with its suburban and urban expansions.  I was just reading an introduction for the 1869 Ontario County Index (which lists Sylvester Mackey, my great-great grandfather) that mentions how great the land is in Ontario for farming.

"Ontario is justly regarded as one of the first Agricultural counties in the Province.  Of its area--estimated at 360,000 acres---there are upwards of 210,000 acres cleared and under cultivation, about 150,000 acres being under crop and the remainder are devoted to pasture.  The soil is rich and fertile, and very productive." (pg. 2, 1869 Ontario Country Index)

I can assume the current amount of land in Ontario dedicated to agriculture falls short in comparison to the amount in 1869.  And so, with prime farm land being developed for non-agricultural uses, where else are we supposed to go if we want to create and maintain local farming and thus local food sources?

If vertical farming works, then even giant urban centres like the City of Toronto would be able to establish larger-scale local food sources.  The only way Toronto can grow is up, and perhaps this might be the reality for other areas in the GTA in the future.  I'm so interested to see what else develops from Sky Farm and for the concept of vertical farming altogether.

Other really cool links:

The wild breaking the city's border

  urban vs. rural spaces"]Making a film that touches on food production, sustainability, the "green" trend, changing landscapes, suburban expansion, and the disappearance of the family farm, I've been looking around a lot at juxtapositions of urban vs. rural spaces.

An event in toronto that happened, detailed in a article today, was a great example of this juxtaposition.  A wild deer (assumed wild) was found in downtown Toronto, before sedated and taken away.  An idea of a wild animal roaming the streets of Toronto is a strange image to have in my head, and the same must have been for the people that experienced it first-hand in the city's core.


Authorities aren't sure where the deer came from specifically but regardless it managed to permeate the city borders and for a few moments the urban and rural came together.  Now, there are zoos and petting farms within the city, but those animals are contained.  The wild deer is like a foreign object--it doesn't belong in the city, and as soon as it got it, great effort was taken to remove it.

I think it speaks greatly to how easily urban spaces permeate the rural borders and take it over without much opposition (or if there is, ultimately housing and serving the growing population is the priority and wins out), while the reverse requires much more effort.  Well, one day perhaps the wild will take over again.

The Facts

I found another interesting blog post on the Toronto Star Photo Blog, this time....actually, two posts, specifically from Richard Lautens, a staff photographer. The first was a post on an H1N1 vaccine photo op at Toronto General Hospital, but noted that the vaccine contained, "in fact", a placebo.  Lautens ended the post with "Shame on you TGH."  The second post was to clear up that the vaccine given to the people in the photo op was not a placebo, but also not the H1N1 vaccine--but most importantly, that it was not a placebo.

"The fact remains that all too often there are official photo-ops and gatherings where certain events are fed to the media inappropriately and then the media is blamed for the lack of truth in journalism.  I think we all should try to do better--media included."

The final two sentences struck me, and it was actually something I had been thinking about in the back of my mind for the past little while.  The expectation of the media, as a source of news and information, to be infallible; to be correct 100% of the time.  Although that is not the reality, of course.  Of course there is an expectation of being responsible for your error.  But what happens if you've been fed the wrong information, like Lautens pointed out.

It makes me think about when I'm interviewing subjects for a documentary.  It's a good reminder that I can't just take what they're saying at face value and slap it in a sequence for public consumption.  I should be responsible, and fact check.

This goes the same for archives, particularly my family archives.  I need to double check things and ensure that I'm delivering the correct information to the viewers of my final thesis film.

For example, my parents believed that my cousins and I were the 7th generation of Mackeys.  After reading the Mackey Family History book, I realized we were only the 6th generation and corrected my parents.  They seemed slightly amused by this.

Tires, on the farm

tiresWhenever I'm visiting the Mackey farm, especially with my camera, I seem to discover more things about it and thus begin taking photos.  I'd like to think it's a less obsessive documentation of the farm, while it still exists...I find something interesting, and sort of do a photo series on it (like above and below).

mossy spots However, I think there's something working at the back of my mind that reminds me subtly that the farm will cease to exist at some point in the near future, and the time is now to start documenting it.  The archive is something of great discussion in terms of my thesis project.  The film I'm making, the photographs of the farm I'm taking, all will become an archive of this physical structure and the space around it.

It seems strange now to think that the space where these tires sit will soon be gone.  I can't help but think how the value of the photograph of it will rise, for me personally, once the physical thing is gone.  I suppose I can't miss it until it is gone, although I feel like I'm already in a phase of mourning.  No, not for the tires.  Just the farm.

paint spots paint spots 2

tires in a row

Going through the archives...

Looking at some photos.  L-R: John, Cynthia (Mum), James (Grandpa) My thesis film revolves around the death of the family farm.  Thus, much of my research includes going through two major types of archives: public, and private/personal (in a manner of speaking).

PUBLIC - Whitby Archives (Whitby Public Library), Toronto Reference Library, Ontario Public Archives, etc. PRIVATE/PERSONAL - The Mackey Family History (book), family photographs, documents, etc...

I haven't devoted much time yet to delving through any archives yet, but luckily I'm currently enrolled in a class dedicated to the topic of archives and databases.  This will definitely help to keep me on track as part of one assignment, in short, is to organize my research and other materials into a database/system/template of some kind.

In the next couple of months, I'll be going through so many materials that when it comes to editing the film, and writing my paper, I'll be so thankful to have this level of organization in the form of an easily accessible database.

I'll be blogging about the process of creating such a database, and also about the materials in it, and my thoughts on archives since my thesis heavily revolves on the family archive, as well as local public ones.  Any posts related to this will be tagged with "archives".

Since Thanksgiving is coming up, I'll have an opportunity to immerse myself in the mountains of photos my family has.  My goal is to go through any pertinent ones related to the film (photos of the farm, family members on the farm), and figure out some kind of system of numbering them, creating "tags", and assigning ratings based on relevance/importance/significance.  Maybe I can even make it to the Whitby public library too.

Off to the archives!

VLOG..or not to vlog.

This is what happens when I don't blog for awhile.  I SUPER BLOG!  Where were all these topics before? Anywho, I've struggled with the idea of creating a video blog, or "vlog" to document my experiences this academic year especially in regards to the creation of my thesis.

I just did a test video...ugh.  I'm too self-conscious to post any video of myself online.  I know it's all in my head perhaps, but I also feel weird about posting videos of myself online.  But isn't this the story of my life?  Isn't this why I'm a filmmaker?  So I can make the films, but not have to be in them necessarily?  But I've appeared in some film school fiction pieces.  So why is vlogging real stuff intimidating to me?

I argue that I should just throw my fears aside and do it anyway, even if I don't publish it, because my thesis is not just about my family farm but about me too!  It's about my fears, hopes, opinions, etc..  I have to face the fact that I'll be in the a voice, filmmaking presence, through home videos, and eventually on camera as a family member interviews me perhaps.

But then I thought, what if I create something like a radio blog?  rlog? I co-hosted a radio show S2K, and S2K 2.0 ( in undergrad and was surprised how much I liked being a "radio dj".  In fact, I think I may have considered going into radio, either on-air or behind the scenes, if not for film.

Perhaps I'll experiment with both vlogs and rlogs (and find a better name...oh wait, podcast!) and see which one I find more revealing and interesting.  The results will be posted here!