The first four minutes or so of The Seer offer a vivid fabric of sight and sound that states The Problem. Guided by Mr. Berry’s voice reading a Sabbath poem from 1997, we see and hear a critical—even bitter—meditation on who we have become as a people and a culture. Then sudden darkness. Rise to light on a wooded path, footsteps. And then, Wendell’s voice speaking of a life-long friendship. This movement suggests that if there is hope for any of us, it lies in actual, lived relationship with others ... in some real part of the actual world.
Laura Dunn’s film is just terrific—a beautiful, rich consideration of Wendell Berry’s thought … of and in its proper place. In its attention to this, The Seer stays clear of a plodding biographical narrative and wall-to-wall interviews concerning the wonderfulness or weirdness of its subject.
The film rightly avoids canonizing Mr. Berry, an impulse that we long-time readers are sometimes prone to. It presents, in fact, a fairly oblique take on him. He is there, of course, in the right place, throwing some light on the damage that has been done to that place … and on the hope that remains. As the filmmakers put it, "Rather than lens the way the world sees Wendell Berry, let us imagine the way Wendell Berry sees the world."
That place is, of course, Henry County, Kentucky. We are able, via the fresh camera work, to move through it. The voices of some younger and older farmers of Henry County make clear the problems created by industrial agriculture in their lives and work. The voices of Tanya and Mary Berry, Wendell's wife and daughter, also speak not only of him but of their own ongoing relationships to the place and its people.
And it’s good to see the filmmakers use footage of Wendell’s 1974 speech in Spokane, Washington. At that time, these deeply felt words provided fuel for an emerging alternative agriculture movement in the Northwest and were a crucial step toward the composition of The Unsettling of America. His words are also, sadly, as apt in this time as they were forty years ago.
But it's not all doom & gloom. The Seer reminds me of just how great it is to live on a planet that’s so productive of trees and pigs and shining days and cattle and babies and old barns and grass and fog and rivers and dogs and shadows and music and life and all. I shift from the film back to the solid world with a deeper appreciation of the goodness of creation and all its members.
A bit of proof-reading: I notice that in the final credits the name of a printer I’ve known as Gray Zeitz, founder of Larkspur Press, may be misspelled (if that's the person to whom they refer). Oh well, if that’s the biggest problem I can find …
This is a wonderful and important movie. It still needs some help. Support it HERE if you can (and maybe get some good stuff).
[UPDATE: I'm told that the misspelling of Mr. Zeitz's name will be fixed :-)]