Poet, essayist, novelist, farmer, and conservationist Wendell Berry is a contemporary American prophet. In this beautifully filmed documentary, we see images of his life, captured by his lifelong friend, photographer James Baker Hall, and we hear his voice, most effectively captured reading his own poetry.
We see and hear about Berry’s decades-old faithfulness in artfully, and sometimes angrily, reminding everyone from fellow farmers to politicians that there is a better way to treat the land, and each other. Berry focuses on the “unsettling of America,” a modern strategy of agricultural production that leads to loneliness and a disaffection for God’s beautiful world.
As antidotes, the film encourages virtues including “imagination,” “affection,” and “homecoming.” Berry is a rare talent, able to take lessons from his own place-based, rooted farming and express them with the skill of a poet and a professor, toward a vision for earthkeeping that fits well with the vision in Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony:
Made in God’s image
to live in loving communion with our Maker,
we are appointed earthkeepers and caretakers
to tend the earth, enjoy it,
and love our neighbors. . . (OWBTG, para. 10).
I am personally challenged by Berry to remember that all things are connected, and that it matters that we learn to love the world and all that is in it. When human beings have forgotten affection, or how to care for the whole, we have brought tragedy and destruction, violence and poverty on ourselves and our world.
Berry’s poem “Work Song, part 2: A Vision” closes out the film, and reminds us of the work involved in living into a kingdom imagination for our place. “The river will run/clear, as we will never know it . . .” and “The veins of forgotten springs will have opened./Families will be singing in the fields . . . “ The poem ends with “This is no paradisal dream. Its hardship is its reality.” By beginning with deep looking and seeing, we step toward fulfilling our role as stewards of God’s good creation.
Now streaming on Netflix and being shown in occasional special screenings at theaters. (Two Birds Film)