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An unconventional documentary portrait of the writer Wendell Berry and a tribute to family farmers everywhere.
An unconventional documentary portrait of the writer Wendell Berry and a tribute to family farmers everywhere.
An unconventional documentary portrait of the writer Wendell Berry and a tribute to family farmers everywhere.
574 backers pledged $52,063 to help bring this project to life.

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The Seer: A Portrait of Wendell Berry

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About The Film

THE SEER is the first documentary about writer, farmer and activist Wendell Berry.  Created over five years by Independent Spirit Award-winning director Laura Dunn, the film is set in and around Henry County, Kentucky.

No documentary has ever been created about Wendell Berry, but not for lack of interest.  Berry is undoubtedly one of the most significant living American writers today (see "About Wendell Berry" below), and his influence over the organic farming and "slow food" movement is nothing less than seminal.  Our strong desire has always been to drive more people to his writing.  When we first began corresponding about the possibility of a documentary, Wendell made clear that he does not regard screens of any kind and that he has declined to participate in films for decades. 

This might have been the end of the matter, but for our team, it prompted reflection.  Rather than make a "front lit" portrait of the man, could we use the film medium to subvert biopic conventions and instead immerse you in the world of Wendell Berry? Could we draw a portrait of a man in a way that understands the individual as simply a function of his place and the people around him?  Rather than lens the way the world sees Wendell Berry, let us imagine the way Wendell Berry sees the world.

With a series of original audio interviews with Wendell and on-camera interviews with members of his community, and even his close family, we've pieced together a work that we hope reflects the spirit of a man we so greatly admire.

ABOUT WENDELL BERRY

In 1965, Wendell Berry walked away from the foreordained path for American writers.  After living in California, Europe and New York, Wendell decided he would return home to Port Royal, Kentucky.  He and his wife Tanya bought a small farm house and began a life of farming, writing and teaching. This lifelong relationship with the land and community would come to form the core of his prolific writings. A half century later Henry County, like many rural communities across America, has become a place of quiet ideological struggle. In the span of a generation, the agrarian virtues of simplicity, land stewardship, sustainable farming, local economies and rootedness to place have been replaced by a capital-intensive model of industrial agriculture characterized by machine labor, chemical fertilizers, soil erosion and debt - all of which have frayed the fabric of rural communities. Writing from a long wooden desk beneath a forty-paned window, Berry has watched this struggle unfold, becoming one its most passionate and eloquent voices in defense of agrarian life.

As a creative, Berry is one of the most decorated and recognized authors of our time, having won countless awards, including the National Humanities Medal, the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award, the Roosevelt Institute's Freedom Medal and the Cleanth Brooks Medal for Lifetime Achievement. He is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 2015 became the first living writer named to the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.

Filmed across four seasons in the farming cycle, THE SEER blends observational scenes of farming life, interviews with farmers and community members with evocative, carefully framed shots of the surrounding landscape. Thus, in the spirit of Berry’s agrarian philosophy, Henry County itself will emerge as a character in the film - a place and a landscape that is deeply interdependent with the people that who inhabit it.

A Homecoming - Wesley Bates engraving
A Homecoming - Wesley Bates engraving

THE TEAM

We are all grateful for the privilege to work on this film.  Our very small but inspired crew has put in a lot of hard work over five years to try to render a story true to the values reflected in Wendell's writing. Our team includes:

Director/Producer/Editor Laura Dunn is the creator of the Independent-Spirit Award-winning documentary The Unforeseen.

Producer/Co-Director Jef Sewell also produced Laura's previous film The Unforeseen and designed motion graphics for it as well. 

Director of Photography Lee Daniel previously teamed with us to lens The Unforeseen and has shot many other films including Boyhood, Before Sunrise, Slacker, Be Here to Love Me and Fast Food Nation.

Sound Justin Hennard handled almost all sound work including Recording, Design and Mix.  He previously worked on Before Sunset, Scanner Darkly and Bernie among other films.

Composer Kerry Muzzey returns after his extensive contributions to The Unforeseen.  We are very excited by his original score.

Wood Engravings by Wesley Bates who has provided his talents to many Wendell Berry books, especially his works of short run poetry. 

In addition to the crew, we also are privileged that The Unforeseen executive producers Terrence Malick and Robert Redford returned as EPs for THE SEER. We also truly could not have made this film without the immensely valuable contributions of our esteemed Co-Producers: Owsley Brown IIIGill HollandElaine Musselman and Nick Offerman.

WHY WE NEED THE MONEY

We have finished the film and have all but completed post-production. Though we maintain a very small crew, we tend to spare no expense when it comes to delivering the highest quality imagery possible. (That's one reason we shot on ARRI Alexa and Amira cameras.)   We are racing to raise funds to pay for remaining fees and licenses and ready the film for our SXSW World Premiere in less than one month.  We have been very fortunate to have patrons and grants help fund production over five years.  As we enter the final home stretch, we have several last-minute costs to cover. Among these costs:  

  • Post Production and Image/Sequence Licensing: $23K 
  • Music Licensing:  $10K (Festival and Beyond)
  • Coloring/DCP Production: $5K
  • Final Sound Mix: $2K

A meaningful portion of these costs relate to a new sequence that we completed after production wrapped, a cinematic jeremiad as it were.  To create this prologue, we have encountered some substantial costs, but we hope you will agree they were well worth the extra money.  We were recently excited to receive permission from a very eminent musical group to use one of their songs to underscore this piece. 

The good news is, with SXSW quickly upon us, it's a certainty that the film will be finished;  the question is just whether we will be able to include the new prologue and make the film the best that it can be.  

THANK YOU!

We greatly appreciate everyone's help – even $5 contributions add up! But beyond financial support, we also really appreciate your moral support. Even if you don't contribute money, spreading the word about our Kickstarter is just as good. You are enlarging the awareness of the project which, in the long run, matters as much or more. 

Thank you again!

The Seer Team

"Imagination in Place" Wesley Bates engraving
"Imagination in Place" Wesley Bates engraving

Risks and challenges

We have been fortunate to have funded most of the film through grants and donations. After 5 years of shoots and editing, the film itself is all but complete. There is zero chance of us not finishing it.

By extension, when it comes to fulfilling rewards, we are using Amplifier.com as our fulfillment partner. They are well known (they even handled Yancey Strickler's "This is Also Not a Kickstarter Shirt" campaign ) so we have supreme confidence in our ability to deliver on our promises.

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    Pledge US$ 5 or more About $5

    Our genuine thanks. This reward is for those who simply want to support the project with a small gift.

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    Laura interviewed Wendell many times during the five years we worked on the film. You'll receive access to much longer MP3 of some of those interviews.

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    PDF COPY OF THE POSTER: A high-resolution digital download of The Seer Poster is yours to download and print.

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    DIGITAL DOWNLOAD OF THE FILM: A digital download of the film in HD format is yours to keep.

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    A Blu-Ray or DVD of the film when it is complete. Plus an HD digital download of the film.

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    LETTERPRESS MINIPOSTER: Letter-pressed 12"x18" of Wesley Bates' stunning original woodcut image created for the film. The image was handcarved and letterpressing equally manual. Plus a digital download of the film.

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    LETTERPRESS NOTE CARD COLLECTION: Letter-pressed notecard set of all 7 Wesley Bates' stunning original wood-engravings created for the film. Each one was etched by hand with letterpressing equally manual. Plus a digital download of the film.

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    LETTERPRESS FULL MOVIE POSTER: Letter-pressed 27"x40" poster of Wesley Bates' stunning original wood engraving created for the film. Such sizes of letterpress sheets are almost unheard of and require intense effort. (The hand-etched image is reproduced, enlarged and then recast into a magnesium plate for hand-inking and pressing.) Printed on 380 gsm, enriched Fiber content Somerset Sheet from St. Cuthberts Mills, UK. Plus a digital download of the film.

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    OFFERMAN'S STOOL: Backers will receive a variation of the original stool seen in the film. The seat is made of a rugged slab from Nick's collection (dealer's choice), and the three legs are hand shaped with wedged through tenons. This stool stands in your home or office as an enduring testament of the America that still makes things. Designed by co-producer Nick Offerman & the team at Offerman Woodshop. 'Nuff said. Also includes HD digital download of the film. (US Only)

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    ASSOCIATE PRODUCER: In addition to receiving all previous print rewards (Notecards, Posters, Blu-Ray Disc) and download of the film, you will also receive an Associate Producer credit in the final release of the film.

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Funding period

- (30 days)