A documentary depicting the importance of farmers and rural communities will screen next week in Eastern Washington.
“Dryland” plays at 8 p.m. May 22-May 23 and at 2 p.m. May 24 at Ritz Theatre, located at 107 E. Main Ave., in Ritzville, Wash.
Portland, Ore., directors and producers Sue Arbuthnot and Richard Wilhelm were initially drawn to the annual combine demolition derby in Lind, Wash. They met Lind residents Matt Miller and Josh Knodel, then teenagers competing in the derby, and spent the next 10 years filming Miller and Knodel’s story as they worked to join their families’ farming operations after finishing college.
The filmmakers were interested in exploring how rural communities adapt to the extra burdens put on family farms by changes in climate, technology and the economy.
Lind and other communities struggled as pivotal businesses closed, so the filmmakers extended their original plan to delve into the story further.
Improved technologies helped family farms, Arbuthnot said, but also made it less viable for the next generation to return to the farm.
“When you see farmers having to leave the land, you see the direct effect of that in the town,” Wilhelm said. “You see fewer people in the diner and ultimately you see the diner shut down, you see fewer people in the bank, ultimately the bank shuts down.”
“Our purpose is to spread the story of the innovation, the can-do optimism farmers need to maintain their family farms and their community through agri-tourism,” Arbuthnot said.
Miller recently took over his family’s operation, Wilhelm said.
During filming, Knodel learned he wouldn’t be able to work on the farm because there wasn’t enough land.
He was able to return to the farm with his family after a year, when the family acquired enough land for him to start farming. Today, he and his father operate a farm that supports their families and his grandparents, now retired.
“It’s definitely important to tell the story of rural communities,” Knodel said. “Communities are declining, and rural America is struggling.”
The filmmakers screened “Dryland” in several U.S. film festivals and anticipate participating in more around the country and Europe. They plan a “Rural Resilience” community screening tour, and hope to screen the film in rural and urban theaters.
They’re also interested in possible television broadcasts and airings at universities, Wilhelm said.
Knodel hopes the film makes audiences aware of the importance of supporting rural communities.
“I hope it allows people to see we are doing the best we can to be sustainable farmers for the future,” he said.