You know the old story: Kid leaves the family farm and heads to the big city. From rural to urban, from agricultural to industrial -- that has been the big demographic shift of the last century.
To Make a Farm, a tender and timely Canadian documentary that has played at festivals across North America and opens tonight at Cinemathque, is all about bucking that trend.
Ontario filmmaker Steve Suderman follows five young people with little or no farm experience - one couple is from the 'burbs -- who make the very deliberate decision to become farmers.
As they set up small, organic operations, their idealism inevitably runs into the realism of bad weather, livestock infections, fungal blight, poor soil, too much water, not enough water.
There are moments when these newbie farmers can seem like starry-eyed neo-hippies. Faced with rows and rows of yellowing broccoli, Jeff and Leslie, who grow vegetables in southern Ontario, come to the reluctant conclusion that composting cannot solve all problems.
But Suderman also shows how the belief in making a better world - and a more meaningful life for themselves - sustains these folks through a year of incredible ups and downs.
For Tarrah, who runs a mixed operation of crops, poultry, sheep and some of the happiest pigs you'll ever see, farming takes on the weight of a spiritual vocation.
To Make a Farm's Manitoba connection is Wes Huyghe of Minnedosa, who left town the day he turned 18 and spent a restless decade travelling. Now he seems stubbornly intent on putting down roots - literally -- with two acres of market garden and a rudimentary seasonal shelter.
Like a 21st-century pioneer, Wes faces some hard-slogging solitary struggles, like the day he tries to build a fence. "Everybody told me, 'Don't let that spool get away on you,'" Wes says ruefully. "It got away on me."
There are compensations. With slow, exploratory cinematography, Suderman captures the beauty of the changing seasons and the grounded rhythms of rural life.