Hot Docs 2015: On Her Own (2015)
Morgan Schmidt-Feng’s new documentary, On Her Own, tells a story that’s pretty familiar to most of us: the slow death of the family farm in America (and Canada, for that matter). While organic and local farming is gaining popularity, it’s difficult to compete with the output and production capabilities of huge agricultural complexes (I hesitate to call them “farms”). According to Farm Aid, “each week approximately 330 farmers leave their land for good.” It may not seem like a big number, but when that farm has been the lifeblood, the connector for several generations, it can be devastating to the family.
The Prebiliches are one such family. We meet these fifth-generation ranchers in 2009. Parents Anthony and Barbara run the farm with their adult daughter Nancy. Their other daughter, Cindy – married and raising her children nearby – brings her family to pitch in whenever she can. It’s an all-hands-on-deck enterprise. Between caring for the livestock, maintaining the buildings and equipment, and the business side of things (bookkeeping, sales, marketing, farmers markets, etc.), the family just keeps it running, with no room for error.
And then, it begins to fall apart when Anthony passes away. Not only do they lose a husband and father, they lose one of the farm’s main workers, its mechanic, and the only family member with health insurance (he was a Vietnam veteran). As the family draws together to keep the ranch going, tempers – and the fabric of a family – begin to fray.
But while On Her Own doesn’t cover much new ground on the surface, the story of this family in crisis is not so run-of-the-mill. As financial pressures pile up, competing priorities put a strain on everyone, and in 2013, they put the ranch up for sale. It’s this family history that I found interesting, the dynamics. Cindy wants her kids to have more choices; Nancy wants them to have a legacy to grow into. There’s clearly a lot of love there, but it’s weighed down by guilt, a healthy dose of pride, and what is obviously grief over the loss of the family legacy on their watch. After the sale, the family ranch no longer holding them together, the sisters part ways to make new lives. I sincerely hope that’s not the end of their story.
The film is also interesting because we get to see just what it takes to run a ranch. Everything the Prebilich family does to care for and process the animals is hard work. In our day-to-day urban lives, I often forget how much goes into that chicken breast I bought at the grocery store.
Screening Times for On Her Own
Mon, Apr 27, 7:00 PM ROM Theatre
Wed, Apr 29, 4:30 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
Fri, May 1, 9:15 PM Scotiabank Theatre 3
Gallery for On Her Own