Based on the novel of the same name by author Miriam Horn, Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman directed by Susan Froemke and John Hoffman and co-directed by Beth Aala, explores the environmental impact of the ranching, farming, and fishing communities in a way that feels more like an educational piece than an impactful, theatrical documentary. (EML: 3/5)
Review by FF2 Associate Eliana M. Levenson
Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman, a documentary film directed by Susan Froemke and John Hoffman, and co-directed by Beth Aala takes the audience on a journey through three major industries that often are overlooked by a primarily urban public. Despite the high reliance of the public on the ranching, farming, and fishing communities, the film is quick to point out that very few people actually participate in these sectors any more, making it somewhat of a foreign topic for most. Set against the backdrop of stunning landscapes and simpler times, Froemke, Hoffman, and Aala use the film to detail the environmental activism that members of each of these industries have undertaken.
The documentary begins in Montana where a group of ranchers, spearheaded by a man named Dusty Crary fight to protect the untouched landscape of the Rocky Mountain front. While little information is provided on the nature of the ranching business itself, the narrative in this section focuses on these men fighting to ensure that their land and the land around them cannot be touched for oil drilling or other pursuits. After success in getting the land at the front and their own lands protected from subdivision, the ranchers feel at peace with the fact that the landscape their families have looked out on for generations will remain unchanged for generations to come.
From Montana, we travel to Kansas where a group of farmers discuss the industry benefits and environmental impact of no-till farming, a departure from the previous style of Kansas farming based off of a research based farm in South Dakota. These farmers, unlike their predecessors, have taken on a method of farming that attempts to disrupt the natural soil as little as possible and allow for more diversity in crop planting to mimic the diversity seen in the untamed plains beyond the farm limits.
With memories of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s still etched in the farming communities of Kansas, the film depicts a sense of urgency felt by some farmers to do their part to prevent a similar tragedy. But the film doesn’t just demonstrate the environmental impact that no-till farming has on the soil. Instead, it points out that the farms can benefit financially from the change as well. Though it’s unclear if the film is making this point as a way to try and tempt other farmers to make the transition or not, this commentary, which is not limited to the farming section, adds a level of selfishness to the concept of environmental protection. Rather than showing examples of people seeking to protect nature for the sake of saving nature, each of the activists depicted in the film seeks to benefit themselves with processes that just happen to benefit the environment as well.
After Kansas, the film concludes with a group of commercial fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico who are working hard to protect the supply of Red Snapper (among other fish) to ensure that the resource remains fertile. For years, the fisherman and environmental agencies struggled to find a system that would serve both group’s interests, particularly the fear of the fisherman that they would see a cut to their livelihood with limited fishing opportunities. However, the new individual quota system that was developed by environmental activists and fishermen in tandem has had a profound effect on the regeneration of the Red Snapper population. While this may seem like a success, the film points out the recreational sector (fisherman who are not selling to the public) is proving difficult to control in regards to quota, making the battle more difficult for the commercial fisherman hoping to protect the resource for the future.
Overall, Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman has the effect of a film you are forced to watch after taking the AP Environmental test when the teacher no longer has interest (or need) to continue to develop a lesson plan. The film drags through each narrative, lingering on points that had long since been made, and leaving the audience at the end of each section with a feeling of just wanting to get on with it. Furthermore, Tom Brokaw’s gruff narration style feels jarring and out of sync, making the audience almost feel like they are being yelled at rather than enveloped into the scenic beauty being shown on screen.
Despite moments of stunning visuals, the film fails to make an impact, seemingly providing the audience with no takeaway other than a slightly heightened sense of industries often left unnoticed by the average citizen, particularly in big cities. While Froemke, Hoffman, and Aala make a valiant effort, the film fails to engage its audience and feels more at home in a classroom than a movie theater.
Top Photo: The movie poster for Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman depicting the stunning landscapes of the Rocky Mountains, the plains of Kansas, and the Gulf of Mexico.
Middle Photo: Directors John Hoffman and Beth Aala pose beside documentary subject, Dusty Crary, a rancher from Montana who was instrumental in implementing laws to protect the Rocky Mountain front.
Bottom Photo: Justin Knopf and his son stare out at their farm, which practices no-till farming, as the sun sets on the horizon.
Photo Credits: Discovery Channel
Q: Does Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
Not even close. Very few women are shown in the documentary let alone given a voice.