"Eating Alabama" director Andrew Grace has always been drawn to nonfiction – while in graduate school he write for magazines and freelanced for NPR. But after realizing he wash't going to be the next John McPhee, he was drawn back to an earlier love – photography. From there, "Documentary film just seemed like a logical outlet to synthesize my various storytelling pursuits," he says. He now makes docs and teaches an interdisciplinary documentary course — Documenting Justice — at the University of Alabama.
What it's about: "Food and community: It's about trying to go back to something and realizing it may never have existed to begin with."
Director Grace says: "I think of this movie as a personal essay. I wanted to understand how our food system had gotten so mechanized and so corporately controlled in such a relatively short amount of time over the last 60 or so years. And every time I thought about those changes, I found myself drawn back to my own family's story. My granddaddy grew up on a farm, but made a pretty difficult and conscious decision to leave around WWII. That break from the land has had significant repercussions in my life and, ironically, his decision paved the way for me to be a filmmaker! So I was interested in making this film about how we got here, but I couldn't separate myself from the story. I also felt pretty confident that I wasn't going to be able to propose some grand solution for how we can fix everything and create a more sustainable food system over night. So this form of a searching and personal essay is the result."
What were the challenges in making this film? "The biggest challenge in making this movie was determining its structure. So many contemporary docs follow a kind of scripted pattern – a chronological structure or a competition structure or an argumentative rhetorical structure – and I knew that none of those structures would work for this story. So we spent a lot of time talking about the connections across the film – how certain ideas flowed into one another, how certain scenes juxtaposed together. And I worked constantly on the writing and the pacing. But even these things that are difficult are still a pleasure. If you're making movies and it's not pleasurable, you're probably in the wrong business. Don't confuse pleasure with success – there were a ton of personal failures in making this film. But even those failures have their own reward."
Indiewire invited SXSW Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2012 festival.
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