By Dan Clendenin
Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry (2016)
This 90-minute documentary approaches hagiography and elegy, but somehow that’s okay. It’s worth hearing Wendell Berry read his own poetry and seeing the images of a way of life that has forever disappeared — small farms that are family owned and worked. Berry was born in 1934 to a family that had farmed Kentucky land for five generations. After studies and travels took him to the University of Kentucky, Stanford, France, Italy, and the Bronx, in 1965 he bought his own farm near his birth place. He’s been been tilling the earth and churning out books ever since then. Over fifty books of poetry, novels, essays, and short stories have earned him numerous awards as one of the leading truth-tellers of our day. Most of all, Berry is a modern day prophet. Fans of Berry will find in this film the same themes he’s written about for fifty years. The “dominant theme of our time,” he says, “is the violence done against human life and the land.” Ever since the Industrial Revolution we have had to face the “fundamental incompatibility between industrial systems and natural systems, machines and creatures.” Global corporations do violence to local communities. There’s an estrangement between the technological economy and natural ecosystems, for technology has become a means to efficiency and profit without any greater ends that would constrain it. People are reduced to finding a “job” rather than a vocation or calling. Berry reads better in his analyses than in his alternatives. He invokes the Amish as “the only communities that are successful by every appropriate standard,” the Jeffersonian ideal of small landholders, logging with horses instead of mechanical skidders, and a romanticized rural Kentucky of a hundred years ago when young people actually did something instead of sitting around doing “nothing.” I watched this film on Netflix Streaming.
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