By: Darida Rose
We are fortunate enough to be speaking today with Gary Beeber, the photographer and filmmaker behind Michael Malone, Portrait of an American Organic Farmer, a short documentary that follows a 40 year veteran of the organic farming world from Ohio. The film is a fascinating look at the man’s way of life. Thank you for speaking with us today.
Darida Rose, Phoenix Journal (PJ): So how did you meet Michael Malone?
Gary Beeber (GB): I met Michael at Hungry Toad Farm, which is a few miles down the road from us. I go there to buy flowers, produce and eggs, but didn’t meet Michael right away because he’s busy working the farm and not in the farm store all the time. When he was there we’d talk, and little conversations turned into big conversations.
(PJ): What most surprised you about him?
(GB): When I first met him, I thought he was a rough character, but once we started talking I found him to be caring, thoughtful and well spoken.
(PJ): I got the sense that while you might be a proponent of organic farming, you did not set out to make an argumentative film, denouncing large corporations and trumpeting organic farming. It really is, as your title suggests, a portrait. Would you agree with that?
(GB): Organic food simply tastes better. You are correct, my intention was not to denounce large corporate farms, just to tell Michael’s story.
(PJ): You follow a group of chickens from the time they’re hatched to the point when they’re almost full-grown. How long did it take to complete all the interviews?
(GB): I had no idea about chickens before I made this film. I learned that they mature fairly quickly, it's a matter of weeks, not months.
(PJ): You mention on your website that you prefer monotone to colour in your photography. Would you say that you had the same approach with this film?
(GB): I believe that monotone can add a sense of gravitas. When I was in art school I loved to go to the underground cinema and watch mostly b&w films like “Little Fugitive” and “Don’t Look Back." These films were very influential. However, Michael is such a colorful character, the film needed to be in color.
(PJ): Were there any moments from the interviews that you wish you could have included in the film?
(GB): No, not really, I mostly shoot what I need.
(PJ): You didn’t give a full account of Malone’s biography. Instead, we just got snippets here and there and, it seemed to me, there wasn’t an effort to catalogue his life. I found that refreshing. Was that an intentional choice, or was Malone hesitant about speaking about his biography?
(GB): Michael was not hesitant, he was totally open with me. In my work, I try to go for the essence of a subject, and believe that a movie should be entertaining. Years ago I was watching a doc at a film festival about the circus which should have been amusing, but wasn’t. It was two hours of boredom. After about an hour the only people left were me and the producer of the film. This was a lesson for me.
(PJ): Did you try the eggs from Malone’s farm? How were they?
(GB): Of course. I’ve gotten hooked on Michael’s eggs, they are flavorful and delicious.