See an Excerpt from THE SEER at Our New Kickstarter

Today we're pleased to be able to share our first public excerpt from footage shot for THE SEER: A Portrait of Wendell Berry.  It's exclusively available on our new Kickstarter Page.  We are trying to raise funds to help pay for post-production costs before our SXSW World Premiere in a month.

Please come watch the video and also learn about some really neat rewards we're making available for backers of our Kickstarter.

"The Seer " SXSW Screening Times Confirmed

Our Screening Times have been confirmed.   

World Premiere:

Saturday, March 12 
1:30PM - 2:52PM
Stateside Theatre


  • Director, Laura Dunn, 
  • Cinematographer, Lee Daniel,
  • Producer, Jef Sewell
  • Co-Producer, Nick Offerman
  • Composer, Kerry Muzzey
  • Mary Berry, The Berry Center

Sunday, March 13 
6:15PM - 7:37PM
Rollins Theatre at the Long Center

  • Director, Laura Dunn, 
  • Cinematographer, Lee Daniel,
  • Producer, Jef Sewell
  • Composer, Kerry Muzzey
  • Mary Berry, The Berry Center

Wednesday, March 16 
5:30PM - 6:52PM
Stateside Theatre

  • Director, Laura Dunn, 
  • Cinematographer, Lee Daniel,
  • Producer, Jef Sewell
  • Copious numbers of small Sewell children

THE SEER wins award from DC Environmental Film Festival. To premiere Thursday, March 24 @ 7PM.

The DC Environmental Film Festival just announced that THE SEER has won their 2016 "Beautiful Swimmers" award. We were genuinely surprised when we learned they had chosen the film for their award. We are also immensely grateful. The festival runs immediately on the heels of SXSW (March 15-26). Laura, Jef and Mary Berry (Exec. Director of The Berry Center) will be in attendance for the DC premiere of the film. 

Established by the Warner/Kaempfer family for the 2015 Festival in memory of William Warner, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Beautiful Swimmers, a study of crabs and watermen in the Chesapeake Bay, this award recognizes a film that reflects a spirit of reverence for the natural world.

Tickets are $10 @ National Geographic Society Grosvenor Auditorium. (Reservations required.)

THE SEER Premieres in competition at SXSW

Wendell writing before his forty paned window in Port Royal, Kentucky.

Now it can be told.  THE SEER: A Portrait of Wendell Berry will have its World-Premiere at SXSW in March. We learned today that the film will be in competition and receive a SouthBites screening, too. We look forward to sharing what we've been working on for the past few years.  Considering the subject matter, it's particularly special to share it with our home town first.  

No trailer yet, but many new images from the film are now in our gallery. 

Dates: To Be Announced.

The Seer Festival Movie Poster

We are thrilled to be able to share THE SEER's Festival Movie Poster with you first.  The poster features an achingly beautiful wood engraving by Wesley Bates.  Wesley is among the most talented living wood engravers in the world.  His imaginative and idealistic images have accompanied Wendell Berry's texts for decades, especially his limited-run works of letterpress poetry.  If you are unfamiliar with woodcuts, they are exactly what they sound like. Wesley hand etched this image out of a single block of wood.     


Wood Engraving by Wesley Bates.  Type/Layout design by Mark Melnick

Designer Mark Melnick provided typography and layout for the poster (and typeset many elements in the film itself). The typeface Portrait (Commercial Type / Berton Hasebe, 2013) was utilized throughout; its simplistic angles and almost spartan shapes felt decidedly unmodern, though its many optical weights proved highly versatile.

Henry County news features THE SEER Composer Kerry Muzzey

These are very, very real people with human and touching stories,” he said. “There’s just an inherent kindness to the people in these stories and that’s something I wanted to use this to reflect — this very human, gentle quality of these very good people....I miss spending time with this movie, figuring out the music, and listening to Wendell Berry’s voice. It was a very immersive experience, scoring this doc, and it was a big challenge.
— Kerry Muzzey

We were delighted to see that Henry County Local wrote a feature story on our film's composer, Kerry Muzzey.  We have worked with Kerry on two projects now and he's a delight.  We encourage you to read the story for yourself.

Ken Kesey's Letter to Wendell Berry and others

Letter's of Note in 2012 reproduced the following letter from author Ken Kesey (One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest) from Co-Evolution Quarterly.  It was written after the tragic death of Ken's young son Jed in a bus wreck on the way to a wrestling tournament. 

Dear Wendell and Larry and Ed and Bob and Gurney:

Partners, it’s been a bitch.

I’ve got to write and tell somebody about some stuff and, like I long ago told Larry, you’re the best backboard I know. So indulge me a little; I am but hurt.

We built the box ourselves (George Walker, mainly) and Zane and Jed’s friends and frat brothers dug the hole in a nice spot between the chicken house and the pond. Page found the stone and designed the etching. You would have been proud, Wendell, especially of the box — clear pine pegged together and trimmed with redwood. The handles of thick hemp rope. And you, Ed, would have appreciated the lining. It was a piece of Tibetan brocade given Mountain Girl by Owsley 15 years ago, gilt and silver and russet phoenixbird patterns, unfurling in flames. And last month, Bob, Zane was goose hunting in the field across the road and killed a snow goose. I told him be sure to save the down. Susan Butkovitch covered this in white silk for the pillow while Faye and MG and Gretch and Candace stitched and stapled the brocade into the box.

It was a double-pretty day, like winter holding its breath, giving us a break. About 300 people stood around and sung from the little hymnbooks that Diane Kesey had Xeroxed — “Everlasting Arms,” “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” “In the Garden” and so forth. With all my cousins leading the singing and Dale on his fiddle. While we were singing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” Zane and Kit and the neighbor boys that have grown up with all of us carried the box to the hole. The preacher is also the Pleasant Hill School superintendent and has known our kids since kindergarten. I learned a lot about Jed that I’d either forgotten or never known — like his being a member of the National Honor Society and finishing sixth in a class of more than a hundred.

We sung some more. People filed by and dropped stuff in on Jed. I put in that silver whistle I used to wear with the Hopi cross soldered on it. One of our frat brothers put in a quartz watch guaranteed to keep beeping every 15 minutes for five years. Faye put in a snapshot of her and I standing with a pitchfork all Grantwoodesque in front of the old bus. Paul Foster put in the little leatherbound New Testament given him by his father who had carried it during his 65 years as a minister. Paul Sawyer read from Leaves of Grass while the boys each hammered in the one nail they had remembered to put in their pockets. The Betas formed a circle and passed the loving cup around (a ritual our fraternity generally uses when a member is leaving the circle to become engaged) (Jed and Zane and I are all members, y’unnerstand, not to mention Hagen) and the boys lowered the box with these ropes George had cut and braided. Zane and I tossed in the first shovelfuls. It sounded like the first thunderclaps of Revelations...

But it’s an earlier scene I want to describe for you all, as writers and friends and fathers...up at the hospital, in cold grey Spokane:

He’d finally started moving a little. Zane and I had been carrying plastic bags of snow to pack his head in trying to stop the swelling that all the doctors told us would follow as blood poured to the bruised brain. And we noticed some reaction to the cold. And the snow I brushed across his lips to ease the bloody parch where all the tubes ran in caused him to roll his arms a little. Then more. Then too much, with the little monitor lights bleeping faster and faster, and I ran to the phone to call the motel where I had just sent most of the family for some rest.

”You guys better get back over here! He’s either going or coming.”

Everybody was there in less than five minutes — Chuck and Sue, Kit and Zane, Shan and her fiance Jay, Jay’s dad Irby, Sheryl and her husband Bill, my mom, whole family except for my dead daddy and Grandma Smith down with age and Alzheimer’s. Jed’s leg was shaking with the force of his heartbeat. Kit and Zane tried to hold it. He was starting to go into seizures, like the neurosurgeon had predicted.

Up till this time everybody had been exhorting him to “Hang on, Old Timer. Stick it out. This thing can’t pin you. You’re too tough, too brave. Sure it hurts but you can pull through it. Just grit your teeth and hang on.” Now we could see him trying, fighting. We could see it in his clenching fists, his threshing legs. And then aw Jesus we saw it in his face. The peacefully swollen unconscious blank suddenly was filled with expression. He came back in. He checked it out, and he saw better than we could begin to imagine how terribly hurt he was. His poor face grimaced with pain. His purple brow knitted and his teeth actually did try to clench on the tubes.

And then, O my old buddies, he cried. The doctors had already told us in every gentle way they could that he was brain dead, gone for good, but we all saw it...the quick flickerback of consciousness, the awful hurt being realized, the tears saying “I don’t think I can do ‘er this time, Dad. I’m sorry, I truly am...”

And everybody said, “It’s okay, ol’ Jedderdink. You know better than we do. Breathe easy. Go on ahead. We’ll catch you later down the line.”

His threshing stopped. His face went blank again. I thought of Old Jack, Wendell, ungripping his hands, letting his fields finally go.

The phone rang in the nurses’ quarters. It was the doctor, for me. He had just appraised all the latest readouts on the monitors. “Your son is essentially dead, Mr. Kesey. I’m very sorry.”

And the sorrow rung absolutely honest. I said something. Zane picked up the extension and we watched each other while the voice explained the phenomena. We said we saw it also, and were not surprised. Thank you...

Then the doctor asked a strange thing. He wanted to know what kind of kid Jed was. Zane and I both demanded what he meant. He said he was wondering how Jed would have felt about being an organ donor. Our hearts both jumped.

”He would love it! Jed’s always been as generous as they come. Take whatever you can use!”

The doctor waited for our elation to ease down, then told us that to take the kidneys they had to take them before the life support was turned off. Did we understand? After a while we told him we did.

So Faye and I had to sign five copies apiece, on a cold formica countertop, while the machine pumped out the little “beep...beep...beep...” in the dim tangle of technology behind us. In all my life, waking and dreaming, I’ve never imagined anything harder.

Everybody went in and told him goodbye, kissed his broken nose, shook his hand, squeezed his big old hairy foot...headed down the corridor. Somebody said it might be a good idea to get a scrip for some kind of downers. We’d all been up for about 40 hours, either in the chapel praying like maniacs, or at his bedside talking to him. We didn’t know if we could sleep.

Chuck and I walked back to the intensive care ward to ask. All the doctors were there, bent over a long list, phoning numbers, matching blood types, ordering such a hurry they hardly had time to offer sympathy. Busy, and justly so. But the nurses, the nurses bent over their clipboards, could barely see to fill out the forms.

They phoned the hotel about an hour later to tell us it was over, and that the kidneys were in perfect shape. That was about four in the morning. They phoned again a little after six to say that the kidneys were already in two young somebodies.

What a world.

We’ve heard since that they used twelve things out of him, including corneas. And the redwinged blackbirds sing in the budding greengage plumtree.

With love,


P.S. When Jed’s wallet was finally sorted out of the debris and confusion of the wreck it was discovered that he had already provided for such a situation. He had signed the place on his driver’s license indicating that he wanted to be an organ donor in the event of etc., etc. One man gathers what another man spills.


Recently Zane Kesey (another of Ken's sons) posted the original letter on Facebook.   And notably, the postscript differs in Zane's version of the letter.  In Zane's version of the letter,  Ken describes checking a Wendell book to confirm the spelling of his name, and the book falling open to Berry's poem "To Know the Dark"

Zane periodically shares his own reflections on this heartrending episode himself here on his Facebook page.


"The Unforeseen" finally available in HD

It's been almost 8 and a half years since our previous film The Unforeseen premiered at Sundance. The movie, which focused on Austin's struggles to preserve its natural heritage in the face of ever-increasing growth, proved unexpectedly prescient. Since its release, Austin's growth has exploded beyond anyone's imagination (outside of the Austin Chamber of Commerce). The Austin of The Unforeseen was a city whose growth still, in large part, came from people who were in and around Texas.  Not so today. 

It was the making of The Unforeseen that in fact that prompted Laura to want to make a film about Wendell Berry.  True story.  If you've seen the film, you know that Wendell Berry's voice comes and goes reading his poem "Santa Clara Valley".  But it wasn't always that way. During a rough cut screening, [executive producer] Terry Malick observed how powerful it would be if we could get Wendell Berry himself reading his own words.  In Terry's words  "[Berry's] voice would be like an oblique angle piercing the film." 

To record Wendell, Laura initially wrote for permission. Once granted, we traveled to Henry County in what became a treacherous icestorm.  Our four-wheel drive gave out during the trip, but we hobbled to the Berry's with two-wheel drive. Despite the conditions, and to the shock of our host, we arrived when we said we would.  Wendell graciously hosted us, visited a bit and allowed us to record his reading of the poem.  We left, went on our way and proceeded to become stranded in Louisville while the car was repaired.

It was this visit to the Berry's farm that perhaps, more than anything, germinated Laura's idea for THE SEER. Rather than make a traditional biopic ABOUT Wendell, could we somehow approximate the sense of a visit with Berry for the viewer? Could we convey Wendell's words to viewers in a way that left them hungering for more? (i.e. his novels, essays and poems.) That is what we hope to accomplish with our new film, and we very much have our old film to thank for it.

If you've any interest, that film, The Unforeseen is finally available in HD for the very first time. You can buy or rent it on iTunes starting today, July 14, 2015.

Sundance's Tabitha Jackson includes FORTY PANES Audio Excerpt in Keynote

Tabitha Jackson, Sundance Institute

Tabitha Jackson, Sundance Institute


Tabitha Jackson, director of the Sundance Institute's Documentary Film Program, recently asked  our permission to use a brief audio excerpt from THE SEER in her recent DOC NYC Keynote. 

You can read about Tabitha's presentation here:

And you can listen to the interview excerpt below.

Nick Offerman hosts another Fundraiser in LA this Sunday

Nick Offerman, woodworker/musician/author/actor is a man of many talents.  As blog followers know, Nick tirelessly champions the reading of Wendell Berry. In fact, even when it came to promote his OWN book, Nick somehow found a way to work in a nod to Berry:

We're pleased to announce, once again, that Mr. Offerman is hosting a fundraiser for THE SEER: A Conversation with Wendell Berry in Los Angeles on Sunday, July 13th at 7pm. (For those who missed it, here's our recap of the last fundraiser.) 

Nick's guests this time include Will Forte, Bo Burnham, Johnathan Rice, Marc Evan Jackson, Megan Amram and more. 

We hope to see you there!


Big Week next week in Kentucky

Our crew heads back to Kentucky next week.  As our previous shoots captured the visual quintessence of fall and winter, we are hopeful that spring won't disappoint.

The snowfall begins during our winter Steadicam shoot

The snowfall begins during our winter Steadicam shoot

As an added surprise, Laura Dunn (our film's director/producer and editor) was invited to speak on "Healing" at Louisville's Festival of the Faiths.   Laura will share excerpts from THE SEER: A Conversation with Wendell Berry footage shot to date with attendees.   Thursday May 15th from 7-9PM.   In addition to Laura, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry himself will discuss their decades-long friendship with moderator Jack Shoemaker.  Shoemaker, owner of Counterpoint Press, is publishing select correspondence of Snyder and Berry in a new book called "Distant Neighbors."  (Advance copies will be sold at the event)

Wendell Berry isn't the only person speaking at "Festival of Faiths..." Our very own Laura Dunn is as well.

Wendell Berry isn't the only person speaking at "Festival of Faiths..." Our very own Laura Dunn is as well.

If you're around, we'd love to see you at Laura's presentation! 

Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Farmer Boy"

Lately we've been reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books to our children.  In Farmer Boy, a book about the early years of Wilder's future husband Almanzo, his mother learns that her son may abandon farming to go to work for a carriage-maker in town. 

Then Father told her that Mr. Paddock wanted to take Almanzo as an apprentice.
Mother’s brown eyes snapped, and her cheeks turned as red as her red wool dress. She laid down her knife and fork.
“I never heard of such a thing!” she said. “Well, the sooner Mr. Paddock gets that out of his head, the better! I hope you gave him a piece of your mind! Why on earth, I’d like to know, should Almanzo live in town at the beck and call of every Tom, Dick, and Harry?”
“Paddock makes good money,” said Father. “I guess if truth were told, he banks more money every year than I do. He looks on it as a good opening for the boy.”
“Well!” Mother snapped. She was all ruffled, like an angry hen. “A pretty pass the world’s coming to, if any man thinks it’s a step up in the world to leave a good farm and go to town! How does Mr. Paddock make his money, if it isn’t catering to us? I guess if he didn’t make wagons to suit farmers, he wouldn’t last long!”
“That’s true enough,” said Father. “But—”
“There’s no ‘but’ about it “Mother said. “Oh, it’s bad enough to see Royal come down to being nothing but a storekeeper! Maybe he’ll make money, but he’ll never be the man you are. Truckling to other people for his living, all his days— He’ll never be able to call his soul his own.

Her elevation of farming and the declaration that most other work condemns one to "truckling to other people" really resonates with me. The entire Little House series is quite wonderful and if you've got young kids, I highly recommend them. 

We return to Henry County, Kentucky in 4 weeks.  

Laura Didn't Approve this Blog Post

Occasionally our fair director must endure discomfort at the hands of her conspirators.  This blog post is one such example.  This clip shows THE SEER: A Conversation with Wendell Berry director Laura Dunn winning (to her complete surprise) the Independent Spirit Award for her first feature length documentary, THE UNFORESEEN.

(NOTE: Hey Laura, I posted this because so many people coming to FORTY PANES know and love the work of Wendell Berry, but don't necessarily know you. So we're bragging on you.  It's just part of marketing and promotion, please forgive!)

Recently Unearthed UNFORESEEN Press Conference

Took the weekend to do a big garage cleanout.  In the process, we unearthed this never-before seen press conference for The Unforeseen. Exec Producer Bob Redford joined director Laura Dunn and D.P. Lee Daniel to talk with reporters at the Alamo Drafthouse.   Those familiar with Alamo (a.k.a. the greatest movie theater in the world!) may get a kick out of watching at 26:08, as Alamo founder and foremost-terror-of-disruptive-moviegoers Tim League tries to bait Redford into giving an impromptu "Don't Talk during the Movie" PSA:

Bob: "Does that happen here?"

Tim: "We're pretty militant about throwing people out..." (An epic understatement.)

Hope you enjoy this bit of Two Birds history.

Recap of our LA Fundraiser for FORTY PANES

We're back from Los Angeles. 

Our fundraiser was a terrific success and we owe that entirely to Nick Offerman.  He assembled an amazing lineup of performers (not the least of which was himself!) and managed to hold back a few huge surprise guests, too.  More on that momentarily.

As the doors opened, we fired up a slideshow featuring a number of James Baker Hall photos of Wendell.


The audience streamed in over the course of an hour. Things kicked off proper around 8:45PM and Nick took to the stage to great applause.  He thanked everyone for coming and then explained to the audience just who Mr. Wendell Berry was and why his work merited their attention. (If we have our history correct, Offerman himself was introduced to Berry's writing by actor Leo Burmester on November 5, 1995, during their work together on Steppenwolf's production of BURIED CHILD.) 

Nick explained to the audience what a promising literary career the young Wendell Berry was enjoying.  After graduating from UK, he had been invited to attend Stanford's creative writing program.  Upon completing his first novel, Berry and his family lived in Europe courtesy of a Guggenheim Fellowship.  A year later, in 1962, Berry accepted a teaching position at NYU.  Here was a man who truly had the world before him, Offerman explained, yet Berry surprised everyone when he announced he was leaving New York to return to his native Kentucky. He would move back to his own people in Henry County, Kentucky. And from the small town of Port Royal (population ±79)  Berry would go on to write dozens of enduring short stories, novels, poems and works of non-fiction.  And love his wife. And raise his children. And farm his land. And be a member of his true community.

I don't think Nick's rendition of Berry's arc was lost on this audience.  Los Angeles, like New York, is a city where people move to "make it."  It's not a place those in the process of "making it" would necessarily think to leave.  Yet Berry himself did something like that.  And for Berry, that has made all the difference.  But I digress.

Nick then said that if everyone in this country would read Wendell Berry, it would be an immeasurably better place to live. He went on to share his excitement that a documentary was being made to bring greater awareness to Berry's thinking.  After some kind words about THE UNFORESEEN (Two Birds' previous documentary) Nick then shared the audience would now get to see a brief preview of the opening moments of the film.  We then played the first four minutes of our 22 minute teaser.  Backstage, incidentally, a number of folks stepped up the view the footage from the wings, including Nick's lovely wife Megan Mullally. 

This particular clip ended with a FORTY PANES title card and a cursor flying onto the screen to click pause.  Nick elicited more than a few laughs when he commented that our production was so in need of money that it couldn't even afford to put a fade out after the title card.  Nick then brought director Laura Dunn on stage.  She thanked everyone for coming and let them know that tonight's proceeds would pay for our next location shoot in Kentucky.  Laura also thanked our friends from Sundance Institute in the audience as well as composer Kerry Muzzey.  She then graciously exited to stage left as Nick introduced a three minute clip from one of Laura's recent interviews with Wendell.  

The Largo forbids photography of performances, so we thought we'd share scenes from backstage. 

We wanted to publicly thank all of the additional performers and others who contributed to make the evening a success.  We've linked to their Twitter accounts where possible, but in some cases they don't use social media, and alternate links are used.

In order of their appearance on stage, they are:


Bo Burnham

Zach Galifianakis

Andrew Bird

Nancy and Beth

Sam Elliott

(Came out and read Wendell Berry's "The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer!" For real.)  Sam  doesn't appear to do Social Media, but check this AV Club interview with Elliott where Nick gets caught again sharing his love for Wendell Berry)

"I really enjoyed Nick [Offerman]. Not to belabor it, but he’s a very smart guy. I left there with a couple of books that he passed on to me by a guy named Wendell Berry, and they’re pretty heady stuff. Even though they’re kind of simplistic on some level, they’re really well written, and they’re the kind of books that you’ve really got to work at to get into. I’m not a voracious reader, and I’ve been on kind of a fast track lately, so every time I sit down to read Wendell Berry at night, it’s like, I’ve got to f@!*in go back and find my way in, because it’s really incredible writing. In the last two months, though, my wife Katharine’s read both books. I’m still fighting my way through the first one! [Laughs.] That’s all I can say about Offerman, other than that he’s a f@!*in  great guy: He’s a man of the earth, and he’s a smart guy. He’s going to make a big contribution to this game, I think."



    Sundance Institute invited us to become Documentary Fellows program and four friends from the documentary institute attended the evenings performances.   David Courier, Kristin Feeley, John Cardellino and Tabitha Jackson.

    Largo at the Coronet proprietor Mark Flanagan who generously donated the theater for the evening.

    Composer Kerry Muzzey, whose music graced a good portion of our last film THE UNFORESEEN, was himself in attendance.  Thanks Kerry!

    The James Baker Hall Archive graciously allowed us to show some select photos of Wendell Berry made by fellow Kentuckian James Baker Hall.  Hall's friendship with Wendell spanned many decades and but for his inspired and prolific shooting, the visual record of Berry's early life would be far fewer and further between.  We're especially indebted to James' wife Mary Ann Taylor-Hall and JBH archivist Sarah Wylie A. VanMeter.

    (Lest you fear the night was a wash for the performers, please note that they did not go entirely uncompensated as each received Offerman Woodshop Tee Shirts. We probably don't need to tell you how cool that is.)

    To say we were humbled by the generosity of Nick and his friends is an understatement. We truly want to again thank each one of them.  We hope you all like the film you have helped fund!