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Documentary on farming to premiere Sept. 20

Photo courtesy of Fair Field Productions

Aerial pilot/photographer Rene Holmberg discusses the
Photo courtesy of Fair Field Productions Aerial pilot/photographer Rene Holmberg discusses the "crop shot" with Director of Photography Jason Strong. The filmmakers employed a drone to get aerial footage of the area's crops and farmsteads.
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FAIRFIELD – The premiere of Fair Field Productions’ third film in its Fairfield History Series, this one on agriculture, is debuting in just a couple of weeks.

The film, “A Place to Grow: The Evolution of Farming in Fairfield, Iowa,” will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center. It will be shown again two days later during a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee on Sept. 22. There is no charge to see the film, and the public is invited to attend. A free will offering will be taken.

Dick DeAngelis, the producer of this film and of the planned eight-part series, said it has taken three or four months longer than the two prior films because there is so much to say about the history of agriculture in southeast Iowa. He said that his reams of footage have been edited down to one hour and 40 minutes, though he plans to trim another 10-20 minutes before showing the finished product on Sept. 20. The first film in the Fairfield History Series was released in 2017 and titled “Life Before Fairfield,” and dealt with the area’s distant past from thousands of years ago up through the Native Americans who occupied the land and the first Europeans who settled it. The second film, released in 2018, was called “Heroes of Fairfield” and focused on the area’s connection to the Underground Railroad and on other heroes to come from Jefferson County.

The fourth film will be about entrepreneurship, the first businesses in the county, and the fifth will be on Parsons College, a major draw to the town during its 98-year history from 1875-1973. DeAngelis has already begun gathering information and conducting interviews for those films. He hopes his series connects people with the past in a way that allows them to see the big picture, to learn how Fairfield became the way it is.

“If I know who you were as a kid, your family, your first job, why you moved here, I start appreciating you and finding things in common with you I didn’t know before,” he said. “All of that happens when you get to know someone. It’s the difference between being an acquaintance and being a friend. That’s what I want to encourage in Fairfield.”

DeAngelis will help audiences become “friends” with dozens of farmers with fascinating stories. He has interviewed more than 50 people including at least a dozen farmers in their 90s or older who recall life before electricity or tractors, when the plow was pulled by a horse. DeAngelis researched the original farmers of the area, too, the Native American women who collected seeds for planting.

For that section of the documentary, DeAngelis needed some art to go with the narration of that history. He shared the audio with Mark Shafer, curator of the Carnegie Historical Museum and an accomplished artist. Shafer painted a picture just for this film that DeAngelis will show on screen to illustrate the connection Native Americans had with Mother Earth.

“It gives you an idea of the contributions of the entire community,” DeAngelis said. “So many people help in different ways, like Libertyville Savings Bank coming to the rescue since we were a little short [in the budget].”

After several months of filming, DeAngelis was confident he had enough material to make his film. He asked his editor, Ed Murphy, to produce a rough cut of two hours, thinking that they could make minor cuts to reduce the film to about an hour. The editor gave him a rough cut of four hours. The editor couldn’t bear to trim anymore because the stories were so interesting.

“By the time people are done watching this film, they’ll feel a newfound appreciation for farming, and in particular Jefferson County and how we got to where we are,” DeAngelis said.

In addition to Murphy performing the edits, DeAngelis’s supporting cast includes director of photography Jason Strong, sound editor Tim Britton and associate producer Ann Gookin.

“Ann is a great example of someone who has so many ties to farming,” DeAngelis said. “And a lot of people don’t realize that all of our music is from local musicians. Most documentaries use canned music that’s available for free. It’s not bad music or anything, but it doesn’t have a tie to the area. This music is all produced here, and there’s something about that that means a lot to me.”

The musicians receive payment for their work, but DeAngelis said he wishes he could afford to give them more.

“It’s not like a big budget film, but [the musicians] are always happy to be a part of it,” DeAngelis said. “I want people to know these are our artists, and that the film was edited locally, too. We don’t give it to some house in Los Angeles to do.”

DeAngelis has locals to thank for his production company’s equipment, too. A grant from the Greater Jefferson County Foundation paid for the computer on which the film is digitally stored and edited.

This film will touch on all kinds of farming in Jefferson County, big and small, organic and conventional. It will not attempt to tackle “hot button” issues such as confined animal feeding operations. DeAngelis said he wants to leave those subjects to other people.

“Our focus is on the evolution of farming,” he said. “I hope every teacher encourages their students to see this history of Fairfield.”

DeAngelis said he hopes the public comes away with the knowledge that farmers are the lifeblood of the economy.

“We owe it to them to understand them,” he said.

Those who wish to learn more about the history series can visit Fair Field Productions’ website fairfieldmediacenter.com/fairfieldhistoryseries, where they can order the first two films and watch a trailer for the third film.