When William Kunitz set out to make a documentary about the Goranson Farm in Dresden in February 2009, he planned on capturing the “nuts and bolts about how to run a farm.” What he ended up with was a film about the toughest growing season the farm had faced in 25 years.
In the film “Goranson Farm: An Uncertain Harvest,” farmers Jan Goranson, her husband, Rob Johanson, and their sons struggle against the rainiest June on record and a potato blight that threatened their entire crop, according to the film’s website.
Kunitz, who also lives in Dresden, said he planned the film to be just an overview of how an organic farm runs. “These are the cultivation methods, this is how we run a farm, these are the people who work there, that sort of thing,” he said.
“Circumstances changed, and it became, I thought, a much stronger story because now you have these farmers working essentially to save their crop,” Kunitz said.
The film premiered as part of the Camden International Film Festival in September.
“It’s a pretty prestigious festival, so just getting into it” was an honor, Kunitz said. “I think they went through about 500 films and chose 50, so about a tenth of them are accepted.”
The film has also been shown at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, where Kunitz is employed full time, at Lincoln Theater in Damariscotta, and at Harbor Theatre in Boothbay Harbor, Kunitz said.
Coming up, Maine Public Television will air “Goranson Farm: An Uncertain Harvest” on Thurs., Jan. 3 at 10 p.m. and again on Sat., Jan 5. at 11 a.m.
“It’s gratifying to think that Maine Public Television wants to show it,” Kunitz said. “That feels good. So far every place that I’ve shown it I’ve gotten really excellent feedback. It’s been really inspiring.”
After the initial response following the premier at the Camden International Film Festival “it became clear I had something…that meant something to people, that moved them,” Kunitz said.
At this point, Kunitz says the growing exposure could help him sell a few more DVDs, but because the film was largely self-financed it won’t be making him rich.
“It’s not as though I’ve hit the big time or anything; it’s just an opportunity for more people to see it,” he said.
Kunitz has submitted the film to True/False Film Fest in Missouri and Rural Route Film Festival in New York City, but he’s still awaiting a response from the festivals, he said.
Kunitz said he “pretty much dropped the whole thing for 25 years or so.”
“When I left in the late seventies it was pretty hard to do your own documentaries; you were still using your own film,” Kunitz said. Back then it cost about $1 per foot to buy the raw film and have it processed and printed, he said.
One hundred feet of film would only last about four to five minutes, so “it was quite expensive to do that,” he said.
Because of the advent of digital technology and digital cameras, “options opened up that weren’t there when I left in the late seventies,” Kunitz said.
Kunitz had the urge to get back into film-making in 2003 or 2004.
“The first thing I did was edit some video I had shot a long time earlier” on the archaeological dig at Fort William Henry in Bristol in the 1970s, Kunitz said. “I had covered that, so I edited this old footage…and put it [together] as a film in 2005.”
“From there I started looking at cameras and finally found one I really liked, and that was in 2008,” Kunitz said. “I was then looking around for something to do for a project.”
“We had known the Goransons for years and had been CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] members, so it made sense to do something with them.”
After spending time at the farm during maple syrup harvesting in February, Kunitz put together at seven minute video covering the process.
“We got to talking and decided that I would stay with them throughout the remainder of the year,” he said.
The spring of 2009 was more or less standard for the Goranson Farm until June, Kunitz said.
“We sort of went through June and the rains, and then in late July something called the late potato blight [hit them],” Kunitz said. “It turned out to be probably the worst growing season they’ve experienced in their 25 years of farming.”
Many people don’t know a lot “about what goes into getting food to the table,” Kunitz said. “I think this shows the extent of the work, everyday work… The work is pretty much sunrise to sunset, and during the summer those are pretty long days.”
“[During] virtually all the interviews and all the action they’re working, they’re working constantly,” Kunitz said. “Very seldom would they sit down to talk to me; it would be during lunch time or when she’s processing checks.”
In all, Kunitz shot about 74 hours worth of footage at the farm in 2009. Since then, he boiled that down to the 54 minute film, which is the eighth full edit, Kunitz said.
Asked how many hours he’s spent in total on the project, Kunitz responded, “I’ve never sat down and tried to figure that out, but it’s a lot, a lot of hours.”
“I was doing it all by myself. It’s sort of like people who build an airplane in their garage,” working nights and weekends while holding down a full-time job, Kunitz said.
“Sometime in late June I looked at it and said ‘Hey, you’ve got a film here,'” Kunitz said.
Though he did the bulk of the work on his own, Kunitz wanted to recognize professional film editor Mary Lampson and playwright Doris Baizley for their guidance and assistance.
“I had some really excellent help, though my fingers did more of the work,” Kunitz said.