One of the unique things about Berry’s fiction, and perhaps why some people find it less accessible, is that in many ways the books aren’t primarily about human characters but are instead about “a place on earth.” From what I’ve seen, you took a similar approach to Henry County in your movie. How did you go about trying to make Henry County, KY a character?
You know, there’s this great line that Burley Coulter says where he says “we’re all a part of each other, each one of us is a part of one another, all of us, everything.” It’s this very theological idea, very similar to the words of Paul when he talks about the body of Christ having many different members but we’re all part of one body. That’s the image that was most in my mind as I worked on it and it’s very central to Wendell’s worldview; it’s very theological and ecological.
The individual is a function of his place and the people around him; you don’t exist but for the others. That’s really profound and important and counter to the way our culture sees individuals now. We have Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and we think every detail we do is important and it’s actually all vanity. Really, who am I without my family, my place, my neighbors? They aren’t just obligation, they are a part of me, they define me. That’s really important to Wendell. He talked to me about that. It’s not about the individual; it’s about the whole community, the membership.
As I approached the film, if you look at that visual image with the man looking away and his back is made up of the landscape, the birds, the clouds, the rivers, the trees, the houses… that’s who Wendell is and his desire to not have it be all about him points us at that very important and significant part of his worldview. To me I still call it a portrait of Wendell Berry because the very way we portray the community is an aspect of something absolutely essential about him, we’re looking at the world through his eyes, not the way the world sees him.
That being said, I thought it was very important in terms of the natural landscape to film across all four seasons, so you’re going back again and again to the same walk down the hills, the same farmhouse, so I think that also trying to film interview lots of different members of the community they really, I didn’t want one voice, I wanted a collection of different voices. So that’s another way we approached it.
Read the whole interview by Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy.