"LOOK & SEE" to play 2017 Sundance Film Festival

We withdrew our film this summer from circulation to make some small changes.  We also retitled the film from THE SEER because Mr. Berry expressed misgivings about being identified in the office of prophet.  Withdrawing a film slows momentum...  but the additional time really has let us improve the film.  It provided us a chance to turn some some of the film's half-notes into whole notes and others into rest notes. 

We recently were notified that our revised edit of LOOK & SEE would have a chance to premiere at The Sundance Film Festival in January.  As noted in the Hollywood Reporter.

This year, the festival will launch The New Climate program, the first time it has ever dedicated programming to a specific theme. Three projects announced Monday are part of that program, including Susan Froemke, John Hoffman and Beth Aala’s Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman in Documentary Premieres and Laura Dunn and Jef Sewell’s Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry in Spotlight.

There has perhaps never been a time where Wendell Berry's voice is more needed.  He gives voice to an underrepresented segment of the American population and advocates for a different way of seeing.  We are honored that Sundance is bringing more attention to this vital writer and eloquent advocate for family farmers. 

New "Look & See" Poster

Renaming the film "Look & See" among other things has necessitated a new poster design.  This is especially important as many Kickstarter backers opted to receive letter-pressed versions of the official film poster.  Future versions may evolve to incorporate credits, awards and the like.  But for backers,  we required a version completely free of marketing metadata.  This is that image.

(Wood Engraving by Wesley Bates, Typography by Mark Melnick)

(Wood Engraving by Wesley Bates, Typography by Mark Melnick)

In the treatment above, we are using a subtle autumnal gradient from the L to the E.  However, the gradient may not appear in the letter-pressed editions depending on production options.  The largest posters especially involve hand-rolling the ink across the raised forms and that may require a different treatment.  (We especially loved Mark's letter shape of the "L".  It evokes a scythe which of course is used to hand mow grasses.) 

First Fruits of our Kickstarter Campaign

When we conceived of this Kickstarter, we knew we could not phone in the campaign. Making a film about Wendell Berry obliged us to factor our decisions continuously.  Everywhere possible, we sought to make choices to self-exemplify the values that the film celebrates. 

Our curation of Kickstarter rewards provided us once such opportunity to go against the trend. Instead of cheap and easy, we elected to offer handmade goods from genuine artisans. Once the campaign funded, we were thrilled to be able to produce them.  Now that the first fruits of those efforts are appearing, we are even more excited.

As you may remember, co-producer Nick Offerman offered a handcrafted original stool for anyone who backed our film the $2,000 tier.    Here they are freshly oiled and almost ready to ship.

Stools with Wedged Tenon, Claro Walnut Seats, Eastern Black Walnut Legs

Stools with Wedged Tenon, Claro Walnut Seats, Eastern Black Walnut Legs

OWS dropped a photo of the beauties on Instagram which prompted comments like "Gorgeous!" "Can I purchase these? So lovely!" and "Swoon-worthy!!"

Official Offerman Woodshop Instagram

Official Offerman Woodshop Instagram

Some of the Team at Offerman Woodshop (Drift Journal)

Some of the Team at Offerman Woodshop (Drift Journal)

When I learned that Laura Dunn was making a Wendell Berry documentary, I immediately alarmed her with the enthusiasm of my enquiry. ‘Please let me do whatever I can to help your film! I will coil cable, I will sweep the barn, I will make sandwiches, I’ll wrangle livestock! I’m great with sheep! You name it!’ Laura placatingly said that she had those areas well-covered, but that I could possibly serve as a valuable cheerleader and fundraiser for the effort – so, after I calmed down, that is what I have proudly become.

As she was editing the picture, Laura happened upon a section in which Mr. Berry talks about artists making things, including a stool, and she thought it would be neat to have some footage of just such a stool being made, and, lucky for me, I just to happen to make things like stools in my woodshop. We brought in a gorgeous Arri Alexa camera and shot my hands and my tools and some California walnut with a great deal of personality as I fashioned it into a 3-legged stool with mostly vintage hand tools. My face never appears, and so I believe it is the finest film work I have done to date. I am sincerely humbled and honored to have the chance to support this beautiful poem of a film, espousing the world view of our most important American writer and thinker…
— Nick Offerman, American Woodworker

That guy, he 's good people. For the curious, here's a lovely piece on Offerman Woodshop that profiles a few different members of the OWS team.  We are especially indebted for RH Lee for all the help on this project.

"LOOK & SEE"

 

In June, we withdrew our film from circulation to make  some changes.  We believe these revisions truly will strengthen the film and broaden its audience. We also decided to change the film's title after learning Mr. Berry had misgivings about being labelled a prophet. There were a few other reasons for a title change, but that alone was sufficient.

Our film is, in many ways, about a different way of seeing. To emphasis this idea, we retitled the work LOOK & SEE: A Portrait of Wendell Berry.

Temporary Pause

Dear friends,

The few initial screenings of our Wendell Berry documentary have been encouraging both in terms of audience reactions and critical reception.  After working in comparative obscurity for years, it's exciting to see the effects of the work as it reaches others.   Sometimes this process is almost metronomically predictable.  Play at Festivals. Sell to Distributor.  Do some interviews.  Start thinking about next project.  Sometimes however, the presence of the work in the world prompts entirely unexpected opportunities and developments.  In our case, it's prompted us to withdraw the film to make some small changes and corrections.  

We expect to relaunch our revisions soon so please watch this space!

 


OBVIOUS questions:

When will the film be available for purchase?

We do not have a date yet.  We wish we did, but our recent news has forced us to pause our self-distribution plans. 

When will Kickstarter rewards be fulfilled?

Happily, almost all Kickstarter rewards were promised for December 2016 / January 2017.  And we still are on track for those dates.   

Is there a way to pre-order?

Many people have written us asking to pre-order the film.  Your wish is our command.  You can now pre-order a Blu-Ray Disc here.  Your credit card will not be charged until your disc is fulfilled. 

CAN I SCREEN THE FILM?

Please fill out our Screening Requests form.  Developments have forced us to discontinue screenings in the immediate future.  However, we've heard from hundreds of you so far and hope to announce options for screenings within the next six months.

St Catherine's College (home to Berry Farming Program) to Close

Awful news for those of us who care about Wendell Berry's farming concerns.  St. Catharine's, host college to the Berry Ag program, has announced it is closing its door after nearly 200 years.  

“It’s a wonderful place,” Berry said. “One of the reasons I went there is because they asked how my work and my father’s work fit in with the four pillars of Dominican life (community, service, spirituality and study) and I thought, ‘that is the correct question.’
— Mary Berry

Montclair Film Festival Interviews Laura Dunn

 

D.P. Lee Daniel and Laura Dunn interviewing Henry County farmers

I do not have a script before we shoot. I immerse myself in the material – in this case, I read everything I could find that Wendell has written – and then step into that world and respond to what comes.
— Laura Dunn, Director of THE SEER

Tanya Manning-Yarde interviewed Laura recently for the Montclair Film Festival. THE SEER plays Montclair May 7th and 8th in competition. Director of Photography Lee Daniel (Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Boyhood, The Unforeseen, etc.) won a SXSW Award for the film's cinematography will be in person to represent the film. 

READ THE INTERVIEW or BUY TICKETS ONLINE.

 

Wendell Berry wins 2016 Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature

Wendell recently received Mercer University's Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature.  According to the release, this prize was "first awarded in 2012, is named for the 19th-century Southern poet born in Macon. Lanier wrote The Song of the Chattahoochee and The Marshes of Glynn. Using his name recognizes Middle Georgia’s literary heritage and long, often complicated, tradition of writing about the South. The prize is awarded to writers who have engaged and extended that tradition."

Here's a brief excerpt from his acceptance speech.

Mercer University's Center for Southern Studies awarded the 2016 Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature to Wendell Berry on April 23 in the Presidents Dining Room inside the University Center. The prize honors significant career contributions to Southern writing in drama, fiction or poetry. The prize presentation is free and open to the public.
Most people are too distracted automotively and electronically to know what world they’re in – let alone what the Bible might say about it.
— Wendell Berry, April 24, 2016

THE SEER wins Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at Nashville Film Festival

For illuminating the beauty of our connection to the land the Documentary Competition Grand Jury Prize was presented to, SEED: The Untold Story, directed by Taggart Siegel and Jon Betz and The Seer: A Portrait of Wendell Berry, directed by Laura Dunn. (TIE)

THE SEER tied with the film SEED.  You can read more about other Nashville Film Festival winners in this Examiner story.

THE SEER to have Int'l Premiere @ HOTDOCS in Toronto

ORDER TICKETS HERE

We are THRILLED to be premiering internationally at HOTDOCS, North America's largest documentary festival.  HOTDOCS is of course in Toronto, Canada.  Tickets are on sale now.  We especially hope we are able to see Canadian Wesley Bates, who provided the signature wood engravings that are used in our film.  Angie Driscoll described our film this way:

Filmed over four seasons, The Seer surveys the changing landscapes and shifting values of rural America. Presented from the point of view of poet and essayist Wendell Berry, this cinematic documentary uses Berry’s prolific writing and lifelong relationship to his land and community in Kentucky as the basis for a larger discussion about the ideological struggle between the agrarian virtues of simplicity and rootedness and a capital-intensive model of industrialized agriculture. How has farming gone from art to industry in a single generation? More than a plea to return to “simpler” times and sustainable practices, Berry puts the “culture” back into agriculture. He argues that we can think of farming as an art form, a creative endeavour like writing a novel, so that when it’s threatened with loss we’re not just losing a thing, we’re also losing our appreciation of and connection to it, and ultimately, the connection to ourselves

 

BONUS: BARBARIAN PRESS

THE SEER will preceded by the world-premiere of Sarah Race's short film BARBARIAN PRESS. We really owe the HOTDOCS programmers a debt of gratitude for such an appropriate coupling.  Here's their summary:  

In the age of mechanical reproduction, this intimate, visually beautiful film celebrates handmade pursuits. Jan and Crispin Elsted have been making fine art books by letterpress for over 30 years. Partners in life and work, the couple are achingly aware they may be the last of a kind.

We are truly thrilled!

Nick Offerman Intros Wendell Berry for Lifetime Achievement Award

  Wendell Berry with Nick Offerman at National Book Critics Circle.

 

Wendell Berry with Nick Offerman at National Book Critics Circle.

 

Wendell Berry receives Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award from National Book Critics Circle

The full text of Nick's introduction of Wendell Berry

Thank you kindly. I would like to sincerely thank the board and the members of the National Book Critics Circle, not to be confused with NBC, for inviting me to introduce this year’s lifetime achievement award, being presented to Mr. Wendell Berry. I consider it an intense privilege and hope that I’ve taken a tolerable stab at what was intended by business casual. Mr. Berry has been around for 81 years or so, and in that time he’s given us eight novels, several dozen short stories, 28 volumes of poetry, and 31 books of nonfiction. Tonight we’re celebrating a man who apparently does not like to take a nap. The list of accolades already bestowed upon him and his writing is chock full of richly deserved reverence and gratitude; it’s as long as my arm and would no doubt be as tedious for me to enumerate as it would be delightful for me to skip. The kinds of awards with words in their titles like National, Poet, Guggenheim, Kentuckian, Humanities, Stegner, Servant, and Jefferson. The types of awards that will get your hand shaken by the president and by people even smarter than that.

Now I don’t personally know Wendell Berry that well, but I have had the pleasure to get to know him a little bit. Well enough to know that there are likely things he’d rather be doing than sitting in a New York auditorium listening to a kid from Illinois pay him compliments. I also happen to know that some new lambs are arriving imminently in Kentucky, their farmyard itinerary inexorably unfolding fully heedless of the possible pertinence of these my remarks. I would reassure the lambs if I could that this to-do was not my idea. But to the matter at hand, Wendell, I’m sorry to put you through this but I ought to point out that it’s you alone who’ve made your bed and I’m afraid you’re going to have to sleep in it with me. I first wrote a letter to Mr. Berry in 1995 asking his permission to let me adapt his story “Fidelity” into a film. He said no. I’m an actor first, so I was of course able to take that as a compliment, and thus our acquaintance has survived.

Ladies and gentlemen, to my way of thinking, this exceptional lifetime achievement as farmer, poet, husband, citizen, novelist, neighbor, essayist, father, son, grandfather, pacifist, brother, and fisherman, with the disposition of a philosopher king, would not have so occurred had it not been for two imperative life choices. The first and most consequential of these was of course his marriage to his wife Tanya in 1957. I misspoke when I said that he alone had made his bed, because he and Tanya have tucked in the bedclothes together now for nigh on 60 years. They’ve each been responsible for 50 percent of the bed-making and if there has in fact been any deviation from that ratio, well, that’s their business. They’re still together so they clearly must have hit upon an accord of some stripe. However, as Mr. Berry is to be rightly and fulsomely lauded for the achievements he has compiled, I vowed that his marriage must be cited in the same breath, for in many ways marriage and fidelity are the central themes at the root of Mr. Berry’s life’s work. Literal marriage between two people yes, but also our undeniable betrothal to the natural world and our responsibilities to that bed as well. As he tells us in his essay “The Body and the Earth”: “No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, we can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it. Where we live and who we live there with define the terms of our relationship to the world and to humanity. We thus come again to the paradox that one can become whole only by the responsible acceptance of one’s partiality.”

Now, I have to apologize to you for having the temerity to choose a passage of Mr. Berry’s text to read out loud. It’s not that it isn’t beautifully wrought. It’s just that with every word I transcribe I’m then reminded of two other passages I’d love to tell you about plus a song from Burley Coulter. And then I begin to cry — I suppose with gratitude, although the true source of my emotion is perhaps beyond my comprehension. It feels like coming home after a long time away, if you’re lucky enough to live in a home made by the kind of people in his stories of the Port William Membership. Like you’re coming home to the Feltners. The sort of crying that feels really good and let’s please leave it at that. I also know that Mr. Berry doesn’t like to hear his stuff out loud, so I apologize to him as well and I’ll try to keep it to a minimum.

Trying to live in a manner that pays fealty to our marriages in every sense of the word continues to become more and more of a conundrum with each passing year, in a world lousy with innovation, isolationism, and rampant consumerism. As our gentle reporter, sometimes frank, sometimes outraged, sometimes lyrical but always honest, staunch, patient, and so observant, Mr. Berry has had more than enough fodder to fuel his prolific output as he has remained married both as a husband and in his husbandry to the pastoral acres of his family farm in Henry County, Kentucky. Which brings me to the second imperative life choice. After an exciting early career of writing and teaching, including stints from Stanford to Italy and France to New York City, Wendell Berry realized that he would prefer to lace up his boots and roll up his sleeves and perform his life’s work in the home place and with the home people he knew best. More than that, it now seems clear that his work was only going to fully blossom if he was gazing through a 40-pane window overlooking the Kentucky River. What a good and wise choice he made. He applied his life to his home and his home in turn applied his life to him, and they’re still dancing together. The fruits of his fidelity are clearly printed, widely available, and are the reason we’re here to crow about him tonight.

I recognize that I should begin to head us back into shore, since my introduction cannot help but be insufficient. How could one hope to succeed in such a task? “Ladies and gentleman, I give you the Mississippi River!” Our humble honoree would no doubt claim that he himself has not yet succeeded in covering everything there is to illuminate, but those of us paying attention would have to argue that he’s taken a pretty damn fine swing at it and he’s not yet hung up his cleats.

Mr. Berry’s book Life Is a Miracle contains, among other things, a very thoughtful refutation of another book by Edward O. Wilson entitled Consilience. Before delivering Mr. Wilson one of the most considerate ass-kickings I’ve ever read, Mr. Berry makes this disclaimer. “I’m aware how brash this commentary will seem coming from me who have no competence or learning in science. The issue I’m attempting to deal with, however, is not knowledge but ignorance. In ignorance I believe I may pronounce myself a fair expert.” He steadfastly reminds us first that we’re human and therefore fallible. Then he reminds us that we can never know anything, and so we must make a go of it in our half knowledge. And with this as our starting point, why then don’t we slow down a minute and love one another? As he so sweetly states, it all turns on affection. Dear Mr. Berry, if you are ignorant, then what on God’s green earth are we, your ardent students and fans? I guess we’re to understand that you are ignorant like Socrates was ignorant.
What did the rest of us do when we first comprehended the odes of Keats? When we heard the triumph of Beethoven’s Eroica symphony? When we beheld the newly inked Declaration of Independence? When faced with the enormity of such moments of inspired human goodness, there’s little to do but applaud through our delighted laughter and tears, and pay heed to these signposts so erected that we too may see the path, so that we might enlighten rather than destroy, so that we may each do our best to leave our small place on earth nicer than we found it.

We like people to tell it like it is. Those who most effectively wield this ability, gently holding up a mirror to ourselves with patience, creativity and compassion, comprise the body of women and men whom we consider to be our best writers, the select few whose gift allows all humanity to feel that this writing is specifically referring to them alone. Tonight we want to make this writer feel our gratitude for the ways in which his telling of the truth has made us feel. When such a writer so skillfully imparts the very things that we have forgotten that we need to hear, with a candor that is sometimes tricky to register through the din of contemporary distractions, but once we’ve caught the tune of the thing and felt it thrilling our very blood, to epiphany and stark understanding, then we call that writer Wendell Berry and we say thank you for your lifetime achievement. Ladies and gentlemen, Wendell Berry.
— http://www.vulture.com/2016/03/nick-offerman-honored-wendell-berry-at-the-nbccs.html

THE SEER Kickstarter Has Funded

Thank You!

Nearly 500 people have backed our Kickstarter and brought it across the funding finish line.  These funds will go primarily to paying for our newly-added PROLOGUE sequence.  For those who haven't followed Kickstarter updates, we've shared some original news there, including:

If you are interested in the latest news, definitely read through those entries! Lots of good stuff.

 

 

SXSW Awards Special Jury Prize to THE SEER

What the Jurors Said

David Edelstein: (NY Mag/NPR)

As we watched the 10 films in this year’s documentary feature competition, we were struck by a somewhat pervasive theme. SXSW is known for exploring, among other things, the nexus between private technology and the public sphere. Given that we’re living in an increasingly private and solipsistic and often insane-making culture, it’s no surprise that documentary – and for that matter fictional – filmmakers have been moved to create stories about the search for community…for something larger than the self....
In recognition of these riches the jury has opted to give, in addition to its grand prize, two special awards, one of which I will tell you about. 
In THE SEER, Director Laura Dunn uses the life and work of Wendell Berry as a springboard for exploring the collapse of the agrarian way of life, which means not just farms but the small-town economies they keep alive. The movie’s prologue, which explores the fragmentation brought on by so-called interactive technologies, could be viewed as the definitive anti-SXSW statement.  But!  But we forgive her because the movie uses the tools of cinema to transport you to another realm.  We’d like to recognize THE SEER's Visual Design which includes archival footage, original [wood] etchings between the film’s chapters and cinematography that captures the spirituality of the material world without lapsing into the womb. It is a beautifully grounded piece of work, and so a special award for Visual Design goes to THE SEER.
juryprize.jpg

What We Said

Laura Dunn (Director, Producer, Editor)

Thank you so much to Janet [Pierson] and to SXSW. I’ve lived in Austin for about 18 years so it’s really special to make a film about trying to find a home in the world… and start it at home. I just wanted to thank SXSW for that opportunity. For Visual Design, I will let my husband say something because he designed the graphics and the prologue... but I DID want to give a shout out to Lee Daniel, our cinematographer. Many of you know him. Lee can’t be here tonight, but he’ll be very excited to hear about this. For his beautiful and poignant work to be recognized means a great deal to me. Thank you.

Jef Sewell (Producer/Co-Director/Graphics)

[to Jurors] Thank y’all so much. Really appreciate it. I just wanted to cite someone who may not get the recognition very often. It’s the …engraver that was mentioned. We have a series of images in the film that were hand-engraved out of pieces of wood by an artist named Wesley Bates. He does a lot of imagery for Wendell Berry’s poetry. But he did a very striking image as our title image and poster for the film so I want to say a special shout out to this guy. It’s unbelievably meticulous work. Talk about painstaking and handmade. It’s a privilege to be able to use his art. It does a lot of work FOR us, thank him and everybody else involved in the film, everybody who came with us [gestures towards crew in audience – Justin Hennard and Lynsey Jones].

Thanks to SXSW and to the Documentary Jury for this special honor. We’re truly grateful.