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On "Look & See" and Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry has been born again! (Cinematically speaking.) Not that he appears to us in the revamped documentary Look and See. We see the people and place that made Berry into America’s preeminent scribe of rural life, but we never see him, except in archival footage. Berry is famously anti-screen, and he made staying off-screen a condition of this big-screen adaptation of his work. Fortunately, though, we hear his words, spoken by the man himself. And Berry’s words are worth seeing.

Laura Dunn and Jef Sewell’s film first debuted as The Seer, and around this time last year I offered a positive review of that beautifully shot look through Berry’s eyes. An infusion of funding then allowed the filmmakers to tinker with their work and respond to the subject’s request for a title change. Berry has never been comfortable with his reputation as a prophet, and so The Seer became Look and See.

Read the complete article by John Murdock at First Things.


Review of "Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry"

Much of the documentary depicts Henry County, where Berry was born in 1934 and returned to in 1965, buying a farm in the land of his birth. Indeed, this Kentucky farmland becomes a recurring character in Look & See, just as on the urban flipside, say, New York is in Woody Allen’s 1979 Manhattan. Henry County provides the documentary with a sense of place, where Wendell’s philosophy is deeply rooted — and where, over the years, the seasonal rhythms of family farming and an agrarian way of life are being eroded and upended.

At the heart of Look & See, and what makes it important viewing for environmentally minded moviegoers, are Berry’s trenchant, urgent arguments against the industrialization of agriculture and in favor of family farms. Berry blurs the distinction between art and life as he critiques the consolidation of American farming in the pursuit of greater efficiency, productivity and profits, at the expense of the spiritual aspects of humans being planted in and connected to the land. In news footage Berry is seen debating President Richard Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, an  acolyte of maximizing profit through assembly line-type, increasingly technological methods of mass farming.

In his poetry and activism, which often intersect, Wendell advances a profound critique of corporate capitalism that ravages the tillers of the earth. The Kentuckian argues that industrialization and the mechanization of agriculture replaces traditional rural values with urbanism. In Look & See the poet/activist comes across as the champion of the common man and woman, advocating for a contemporary Jeffersonian democracy, with the family farmer at the heart of liberty.

Read the whole article by Ed Rampell at Earth Island Journal.


On the Letters and Friendship of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder

Say the names Wendell Berry or Gary Snyder in some circles and you will elicit everything from abject worship to ennui. I belatedly came to awareness of both of them in the late Seventies and early Eighties—Berry for his finely wrought essays and stories (I did not have the maturity to appreciate his poetry then) and Snyder for his poems that were so authentically rooted, many of them, in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada. And though I appreciated both writers, and regarded both as exemplars of environmentally conscious writing, it never once occurred to me that they might be friends.

I pictured Berry plowing with mules on his Kentucky farm, and I pictured Snyder in the Sierra, running the ridges like a wolf. I thought of Berry as a student of the Scriptures, working out a biblically based land ethic, and I thought of Snyder as a Beat practitioner of Zen. But in spite of these differences they have been friends for almost half a century, first brought together in correspondence by their mutual publisher, Jack Shoemaker, and kept together all these years through mutual admiration—and sometimes by mutual consternation.

In Distant Neighbors, Chad Wriglesworth has done us the service of collecting and selecting forty years of their correspondence, from 1973 to 2013. In the fall of 2015, I was asked to introduce and interview Gary Snyder at a reading, and I told him before we went on stage that I was halfway through this book. “Wendell and I argued about two things for forty years,” Snyder declared: “Buddhism vs. Christianity, and wilderness vs. agriculture.”

That pretty much sums it up.

Read the whole article by Paul Willis at Education & Culture.