Marquis plans screenings of Vt. film 'Farmer of the Year'
MIDDLEBURY — The award-winning comedy-drama “Farmer of the Year” will be screened in Middlebury this week.
When Vince O’Connell and Kathy Swanson “retired” and sold the business they’d created (a company that manufactured custom cycling and Nordic ski clothing for clubs and teams), they could have moved south to golf and do water aerobics year-round but instead they moved to Northern Vermont (Craftsbury Common) so they could cross country ski from November through April. Then, one long, cold night while watching a bad movie they started thinking they should apply to some film schools and nine years later, they were filling theaters and winning awards in film festivals with their first feature, “Farmer of the Year.”
The film will screen at the Middlebury Marquis Theatre this Wednesday, Jan. 9, at 3:30 and 7 p.m.; Q&As will follow both screenings.
Kathy and Vince met at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in the early ’80s, where they worked three hours a day for room and board before moving to Western Massachusetts to grow their business.
“We always knew we wanted to return to Vermont,” said Swanson, “so when we saw that the yellow house on one of the ski trails we’d always loved was for sale we made an offer for the asking price, pronto.” The house is still yellow and where their film company gets its name, YellowHouse Productions.
“We’re wrapping up our festival circuit and self-distributing the film theatrically now,” said O’Connell. “We’ve been in about 50 theaters since September.”
The film is screening in theaters from Washington state to Vermont. From multiplexes and family owned chains to four-walling, which is where they bring their own equipment and turn the venue into a movie theater.
“We are really excited to screen the film and do Q&As at the Marquis,” said O’Connell. “It’s a good story, lots of layers. Plus, with Vermont’s agricultural economy, it genuinely resonates with viewers.”
The film stars Emmy-nominated Barry Corbin (Northern Exposure, No Country for Old Men, Urban Cowboy, War Games), Mackinlee Waddell (Good Christian Belles) and Terry Kiser (Weekend at Bernie’s).
Shot largely in Swanson’s Minnesota hometown (pop. 1,100) and at the farm on which she grew up, the film tells the story of an aging farmer who, after selling the farm he’s worked for over 60 years, finds himself useless and adrift. Struggling to maintain his youth, he road-trips across the country in a ’73 Winnebago with his equally directionless and unreasonably self-confident granddaughter. Heading west, they find themselves in seemingly impossible situations with only each other for support. As their journey and relationship progress, they begin to understand and appreciate each other as individuals while discovering that being young and being old aren’t all that different.
Filled with understated small town humor and restraint, “Farmer of the Year” captures a sense of real life, location and spirit of rural America with a unique combination of homegrown and Hollywood.
“The film is set in ‘farm country’ and the main character is an aging farmer but it’s not just about farming,” said Swanson. “It’s a commentary on themes of aging, loss, transition and relationships.”
The film has been selected to screen at film festivals across the country, winning “Audience Choice Awards” at the Minneapolis St. Paul, Sedona and Woods Hole International film festivals. It won “Best Actor” for Barry Corbin’s performance at Woods Hole and was nominated for “Best Feature Film” and “Best Actor” at the Soho International Film Festival in New York City and Lady Filmmakers Festival in Los Angeles. The duo won the “Emerging Directors Award” at the St. Louis International Film Festival.
“We’re overwhelmed with the response ... Audiences are really enthusiastic about it ... and not just Midwesterners,” laughs O’Connell. “We were one of the only feature films at Woods Hole to sell out.”
Swanson wrote the screenplay. O’Connell, edited. They both directed and produced. Though principle photography was done in Minnesota and South Dakota, most of the writing and post-production was done at the yellow house in Vermont. “We farmed out a lot of the sound and digital effects to artists in Vermont. And way back when we’d just finished the screenplay, a group of Middlebury actors got together and did a table read for us.”