RIFF to feature two films by Berry students

Kendall Aronson, Campus Carrier Arts & Living Editor

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“Backyard Chickens,” a short documentary about chickens, was written and directed by Miller Hollstein, Matt Bentley and Joe Torkelson.

Two short documentaries made by Berry students last year are being shown at the International Rome Film Festival this week.

Two groups of students from Berry’s Visual Anthropology with Focus on Food Systems class made documentaries about unique food production in Rome . The topics were assigned to the groups by Brian Campbell, associate professor of anthropology and environmental studies. 

“They highlight parts of our lives that we no longer pay as much attention to, which is where our food comes from,” Campbell said. “They both showcase the ability to get food locally, and I think that is something which is missing in society today.” 

Campbell teaches his students how to write, film and edit the short films during the class. He said that since the class is about the visual and cultural experience, a documentary was a good choice to supplement the coursework. 

“I took two of the films that I thought were most complete that came out of that class,” Campbell said. “I went ahead and submitted them as the producer. I told the students I would try to get their films into the film festival. And then they both got in, which is pretty remarkable.”

One of the documentaries highlighted a local organic farm called Rise and Shine, which is a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. Campbell knows the owner of the farm and has been a patron of the business for many years, which is one of the reasons why he chose this as a topic for his students to pursue.

“I thought it was important that the general public learn about CSAs, especially those here in the immediate vicinities so that they could hopefully patronize his farm,” Campbell said. 

Campbell wanted to document the ethnographic perspective of the farm and see how the different areas of production on the farm worked. 

Russell Maddrey worked on the Rise and Shine project as the videographer and principal editor. This was the first documentary he has made, and he learned a lot of film making skills through the process. 

“I was able to expand my camera skills to include some videography and video editing,” Maddrey said. “There was a learning curve, but we hit our groove down the stretch.”

Maddrey said he learned a lot about CSAs and organic farming during the course of the documentary, which he previously had little experience with. He said he found the documentary making process rewarding. 

“All of us in the group are environmentally conscious and liked the idea of doing a farm that supported community growth and sustainable farming,” Maddrey said. 

The second documentary focused on local Romans who raise chickens in their backyards. Recently, stronger regulations have been placed on chicken ownership in Rome which has caused some families to lose their chicken keeping privileges. The documentary examines the effect of these laws on local families, why the law was put in place and the values of chicken ownership. 

Campbell came up with the idea for this documentary from his personal experience in food pantries in Rome. Campbell said the food pantry receives food from grocery stores that is nearly expired, and if they cannot give away this food, the shelter does not have anything they can do with it. 

“Rotten food can still be eaten by chickens in most cases, so I thought it was really wasteful that we couldn’t just have some chickens there,” Campbell said. “But there was an ordinance so we were not allowed legally to have chickens there. So I thought this would be a good topic for a short film.”

Miller Hollstein, a former environmental science major, filmed, edited and interviewed people in the course of the documentary filming process. 

“It was just really hands on,” Hollstein said. “It was one of the first documentaries I’ve made and it helped me to learn how much work it actually is. It was eye opening.”

The crew faced challenges getting people to talk about the ordinances. Many potential sources who were in favor of the ordinances did not want to be interviewed on the topic. 

“It was hard making a good, well-rounded view of it because we only had people from one side of it,” Hollstein said. 

Hollstein learned a lot about chickens and about the complexities of the ordinance during the course of the making of the film as well. 

“I’m very proud of our students, and very proud of them creating something that is worth showing in a film festival,” Campbell said. “ It is actually very hard to get a film in a film festival so, as Berry faculty and staff, we should be very proud of seeing these films in this film festival.”

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