Exclusive Interview with Roger Sherman About his Award-winning Documentary, “The Soul of a Farmer

Exclusive Interview with Roger Sherman About his Award-winning Documentary, “The Soul of a Farmer

(this post is in English, for the Chinese version, please click on the link brlow / 這篇文章為英文,愈看中文版請點以下連結):

時尚高潮與獲獎智辯家羅傑·謝爾曼 (Roger Sherman) 獨家採訪:關於他的獲獎紀錄片《農民的靈魂》(The Soul of a Farmer)

Roger Sherman‘s award-winning documentary, “The Soul of a Farmer,” will be available on Apple TV, iTunes and Vimeo starting October 19, 2021. The film features former chef and now farmer Patty Gentry of Early Girl Farm in Long Island and her challenges to stay afloat to bring her handpicked produce to market.

  • Watch The Soul of a Farmer’s Trailer First:

Roger Sherman is a founder of Florentine Films, and his documentary films have won two Academy Award nominations, an Emmy, a Peabody and a James Beard Award for their excellence. Some of his previous films include “The Garden of Eden,” “Medal of Honor,” “Alexander Calder,” “The Rhythm of My Soul: Kentucky Roots Music,” “The Restaurateur,” and “In Search of Israeli Cuisine.”

Fashion Ecstasy got a chance to talk to Roger Sherman about this beautiful film, “The Soul of a Farmer.”

Fashion Ecstasy:The Soul of a Farmer” shows Patty Gentry‘s struggles as an artisanal organic farmer. What brought you to her story?

Roger Sherman: My wife Dorothy Kalins and I had a cottage near where Patty started to farm before moving to Brookhaven, where she is now. She was a mile away, and it was love at first sight. Patty is so passionate and so open. She’s so excited about every little thing. “I can’t wait to grow this… It’s going to be amazing“.

We just fell in love with her. I got a new camera, and I thought this was it. The subject is exactly what I want to do, make a film about Patty. We had become good friends, and she had me follow her around. She’d make us dinner. We became very close.
Fashion Ecstasy:
Your documentaries are mainly longer form. Was it hard to pack Patty‘s story into 35 minutes?

Roger Sherman:
Actually, it was the right length. When I decided to write a short film, I said, whatever the length is going to be, it’s going to be but with one caveat; in Film Festivals, short films are usually under 40 minutes. But otherwise, just let it be. I don’t think I even thought about 40 minutes until I was, you know, well along into it, and it was 35 minutes, and that’s what it called me on it to be. In all of my films, I try to make the subject of the movie tell me what the style of it should be. I don’t have a preconceived notion.

I came from a background in photography. I ended up living in Amherst, Massachusetts and discovered Hampshire College. It’s a very progressive liberal arts college, and I started studying photography. Ken Burns and I were college roommates. So, we started Florentine Films together (along with Buddy Squires and Larry Hott) a year after graduating. And we worked together for many years and later we wanted to stay together in a certain way. So, we decided to separate our business and, but we all call ourselves Florentine films. My DBA is Sherman Films.

Fashion Ecstasy:
Did you start off with a passion for food yourself?

Roger Sherman:
Whatever little I know about food, it’s from my wife, Dorothy Kalins, who started Saveur magazine and Metropolitan Home magazine. She just came out as a book called “The Kitchen Whisperers, Cooking with the Wisdom of Our Friends.”

Fashion Ecstasy:
With Patty being up so early every day and working hard, it looks very physically and mentally taxing. How does she manage that balance anyway?

Roger Sherman:
Not very well. She’s burnt out. There’s no question. She wants to do it all by hand. She feels that it’s going to make better vegetables. And most of the vegetables, as Missy Robinson (Brooklyn chef/restaurateur Lilia and Misi) says in the film, everything is pristine and beautiful. We went to the Green Market in New York City last weekend and came back with lettuces that I had to wash four times to get clean and carrots that were utterly caked with dirt. Patty would die before sending that out because it has to be beautiful in both taste and presentation. Most people don’t really know what it takes to grow anything, whether produce or meat. And what I tried to do was basically burst the bubble of farm-to-table. I hope it appeals to people who want to know more about this. We’re going to reach out to the agricultural schools, cooking schools and other places because young people don’t know what it takes to grow the food that we eat.

Fashion Ecstasy:
The film emotionally pulls you to see her struggles.

Roger Sherman:
What’s impressive about Patty‘s personality is that she takes every setback into a positive experience.

Fashion Ecstasy:
With the CSA (the community-supported agriculture), do you think that is a way for other farmers to help them become more financially sustainable?

Roger Sherman:
Absolutely. As you see in the film, chefs can be fickle and not necessarily reliable. One day they want something, and the following week they change what they want. Patty planted a whole field, especially for one chef, who’s a very good friend of hers. But it didn’t work out. The chef didn’t take the produce. With the CSA, they pay in advance. They are so appreciative and glad. They cut their own herbs, basil and arugula. She is beautifully contributing to that community.

Fashion Ecstasy:
I loved when you spoke to Isabella Rossellini (actor/activist and owner of the land Patty rents). She seems like the friendliest landlord anyone could ever want. She had some hilarious moments when she said, “Patty encourages me to take her garbage to my animals, but I go through it first because she throws away things other farmers would sell.” And praising Patty as “the Picasso of vegetables.”

Roger Sherman:
She’s down to earth, and she’s hilarious, and Patty‘s very protective of her. She does not name-drop. For a long time, Patty just referred to her as “her landlord.” Isabella saved a giant parcel (18 acres) from being developed on Long Island. She’s lovely.

Fashion Ecstasy:
Visually, you made Patty‘s produce look like art. I liked how in the film you showed Patty tasting all of her produce.

Roger Sherman:
My background as a formal photographer makes shooting the farm such a joy. On the farm, you get to try a black tomato, and you pick it and chew it, and it’s green inside. She doesn’t make it to wow you. She does it because she knows it’ll taste so good.

Fashion Ecstasy:
With her background as a chef. I guess it allows her to see how it’s going to look on the plate and taste.

Roger Sherman:
Exactly. And that is made into the film when she talks about the chefs as she’s filling their orders. And even before, when she’s ordering more seeds. She says, “Wow, that’s amazing. I know what they can do with these vegetables. So, I’m picking these for them specifically“. It gives her a very different perspective and some advantage when you are selling to chefs and restaurants.

Fashion Ecstasy:
Nowadays, people are cooking more at home, eating healthier because of COVID and because restaurants are expensive. Home chefs want the same quality of ingredients that professional chefs use.

Roger Sherman:
Patty has worked in restaurants and sells to chefs, so she has an excellent idea of what her CSA clients would want to have. She is thinking very clearly about what they want. Farmers need to think ahead about the clients’ plans. Patty can plant for her customers that are restaurants and home cooks. Patty can talk to anyone, and groups come. She does give them tours and helps them plant seedlings.

Fashion Ecstasy:
As a filmmaker, because your topics are pretty diverse, what stories attract you?

Roger Sherman:
One or two things that you look for in all my films, whether about one person like Patty or Israeli Cuisine with quite a few portraits of different people. Whenever I talk to somebody, I find out what they know, what they care about, and their passion. I feel like you will relate, if not to this person, then to this other person. In total, I’ll bring you an idea of what the subject matter like Israeli Cuisine is by doing portraits of various people. All get to say their own piece. For “Medal of Honor,” we got to interview a dozen living recipients because most people who generally receive the Medal of Honor don’t survive their combats. Two of their wives said to me their husband told me things that happened years 50 ago that they didn’t even know. So getting the stories out and getting people to talk about things they don’t necessarily talk about.

Fashion Ecstasy:
You make people feel comfortable in front of the camera.

Roger Sherman:
Thank you. Part of my style is to make you feel very comfortable as an interview subject. I want it to feel like I put my arm around you, and we do this together. I get you to feel good, and you speak about things that maybe you wouldn’t necessarily talk about. I’m not an investigative filmmaker, nor do I try to make people feel uncomfortable. Suppose the interview subject doesn’t want to talk about something. That’s fine with me. I will not go there. There had been a few times where the subject would get uncomfortable. And I’ll say would you like to talk about that off-camera. And many times, they’ll say, yes, and I’ll turn the camera off, and I will move the camera away. It’s pointed in the other direction. That tells people that they can trust me. I cannot think of a time when that conversation caused that person to want to stop shooting and not talk about it.

Fashion Ecstasy:
How much research do you undertake?

Roger Sherman:
For this film, I didn’t need to do much research. With “In Search of Israeli Cuisine,” I raised money for a year and a half. My research was a lot about who we might interview, and that’s always a juggle because you end up finding some people with pretty similar backgrounds, so you have to decide which one goes and who stays. We had a spreadsheet a mile long, and you want it to be geographically spread out. For me, the secret to making a film is flexibility. I work 10-hour days, and I’m the producer / director/ cinematographer/ writer. I try to have the best editor. I am always shooting, even on my lunch break. And if I can hire a producer to do the day-to-day, then it’s great. I did a film, “The Rhythm of My Soul,” about country music and bluegrass in Kentucky, and we’re filming in the barn. The producer‘s father comes out. I mean, you’re talking like right out of Central Casting, with his big white cowboy hat and white moustache, boots. He asked if we were interested in coming to a horse auction. And it became a charming, very different scene in the film. I can tell you that I have made films long enough that making a good film is not so hard. But making a great film, that’s hard. I never know. And that’s why it’s on my mind all the time. And I won’t know if it’s a great film until the audience sees it and gets acclaim at festivals. And it’s a challenging and wonderful struggle that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

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