This is an engaging little documentary on a topic that’s rarely explored – and probably rarely thought about.
I’ve certainly never given it much thought – but perhaps that’s because I spent many of my childhood summers living next door to a couple of lesbian farmers (tactfully referred to as “old maids” in those days). So I guess it never occurred to me that there wouldn’t also be gay farmers.
Still, the topic is an interesting one, not in the least because, as writer/director Tom Murray notes, rural gay life is not an often-seen part of gay culture. It’s certainly at odds with the general image of gays that’s presented by the media. (For a look at the standard movie notion, you need only venture into a multiplex and check out Diedrich Bader in Miss Congeniality 2 — though personally, I’d advise against such a rash move.)
Murray himself is both gay and a product of rural America. He didn’t stay down on the farm, though; instead, he migrated to what he perceived as the safer environs of urban life. A trip back to his childhood farm home prompted Murray to undertake a search for gay men in rural America, resulting in this often quirky and largely unstereotypical movie that explores the lives of several gay men — mostly couples — in rural America.
Starting with a couple on a Wisconsin dairy farm, Murray paints a picture that humorously deflates both gay and rural stereotypes. The guys are not at all what you might expect them to be, and neither is the level of acceptance their community affords them.
The older of the two men even notes that he’d come out without realizing it, that his neighbors knew long before he’d said anything. The younger man, for his part, makes this deadpan observation: “I have 11 gay relatives in my family. At my sister’s wedding, you had the Bob Joneser section — you know, the Bob Jones University section — you had the alcoholic section, and you had the gay and lesbian section.”
This fairly light tone continues for a good portion of the film as it visits other rural gay men — including a section involving a gay rodeo.
However, there are other sides to the documentary. In one instance, we find a gay man who has chosen to make a break from his urban existence in favor of a rural one. His situation is at odds with most of the stories, which tend to concern gay men sticking with their rural roots.
And not all of the documentary is done in the light tone of the opening visit. Murray ends the film with both the oddest couple and the most powerful story, about which I won’t say much, though I will note that it can’t be easy to deal with sitting on your porch while someone drives past, screaming, “Go home, faggot,” when you are home. It’s a sobering, slap-in-the-face moment in an otherwise fairly light-hearted and positive examination of rural gay life.
First-time filmmaker Murray isn’t an especially inspired director, but he is proficient enough. Thankfully, he eschews the tendency of so many documentarians to bolster the film with pointless pretty images and overly elaborate effects. This is also an agreeably tight film, telling its story in a compact 73 minutes that feel neither rushed nor padded.
What’s more, the film is crafted in an admirably straightforward manner, with a minimum of editorializing on Murray’s part. Indeed, the major addition the filmmaker offers is a slightly melancholy sense of regret that he didn’t follow the path of the men he interviews.
The only disappointing aspect of Farm Family is that none of the men are in the rural South, which serves to reinforce a negative stereotype of this part of the world. In fact, there is some dialogue that specifically endorses the view that the South is uniquely anti-gay — and I’m not sure that’s necessarily true. But that’s a small complaint about an interesting and often rich film.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke
[In conjunction with the UNCA GLBT Conference, the Fine Arts Theatre will show Farm Family at 8:40 p.m. on Thursday, March 31.]