Movie News & Reviews

Full Frame: Durham-based Vittles Films screens ‘Farmer Veteran’

A still from a feature-length documentary film about the experiences of a wounded combat veteran trying to start a farm in rural North Carolina.
A still from a feature-length documentary film about the experiences of a wounded combat veteran trying to start a farm in rural North Carolina. Vittles Films

Most documentary filmmakers follow whichever narrative captures their attention. But the folks behind Vittles Films are storytellers with a singular focus: food.

The Durham-based documentary film company uses food as its storytelling lens. Their short film, “Un Buen Carnicero,” shares the story of immigrant butcher Tolo Martinez, who caters to Spanish-speaking customers at Cliff’s Meat Market in Carrboro. Another short, “Cook School,” follows instructor Nancy Gould, who teaches a popular cooking class at an Orange County prison.

And the group’s first full-length documentary, “Farmer Veteran,” follows Army veteran Alex Sutton, who, after three combat tours in Iraq, finds solace raising animals on a farm in Jackson Springs, about 12 miles west of Pinehurst.

That film will eventually air nationally on PBS (likely on Veterans Day 2016), but Triangle residents can view a rough cut screening Friday night as part of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham. The film is a work in progress and the screening offers the Vittles Films folks an opportunity to get feedback from the audience. (“Farmer Veteran” is also a working title.)

“Farmer Veteran” was one of only about a dozen projects to get funding from the Independent Television Service, which provides content to PBS and typically receives almost 1,000 submissions during its twice yearly open call for projects, according to Rachel Raney, executive director of the Southern Documentary Fund. Raney’s group, which supports documentary film projects made in or about the American South, is working with Vittles.

Projects with purpose

About Vittles Films, Raney said, “What struck me from the very beginning is they are new filmmakers but the craft they are practicing is finely tuned.”

Vittles started as a collaboration between photographer D.L. Anderson, 32, and reporter Victoria Bouloubasis, 32, who both previously worked for the Indy newspaper in Durham, but wanted to do more video storytelling and were drawn to food as a narrative tool. Their first project told the story of Durham resident Joe Schwartz, who after months of enduring tantalizing smells from his Chinese neighbors’ kitchen, eventually got up the nerve to ask for cooking lessons.

“It wasn’t serious, but it just shows what can happen if you follow your nose and your stomach,” Anderson said.

The group typically does three types of projects: fun, passion projects that they work on in their spare time; projects done in collaboration with an entity, like PBS or the Southern Foodways Alliance, which funded “Un Buen Carnicero”; and fee-for-service projects that align with their mission.

An example of the latter is a short film, “Collards in the Cafeteria,” about a Gaston County school’s efforts to serve more North Carolina produce. That project was done for the 10% Campaign, an initiative by the Center for Environmental Farming Systems that aims to have North Carolinians commit 10 percent of their food budget to buying from local producers.

“Farmer Veteran” is the group’s most ambitious project to date. It started out as a short film by co-directors Alix Blair and Jeremy Lange, but Anderson, who worked as a producer and editor on the film, said Sutton’s story became more complex after his girlfriend got pregnant and he struggled with becoming a father.

“It became clear that the challenge of overcoming that trauma was more significant that anyone anticipated,” Anderson said.

Vittles Films screenings

Durham-based Vittles Films has several upcoming film screenings:

▪ “Farmer Veteran,” will be screened at 7 p.m. Friday at the Full Frame Theater at American Tobacco Campus in Durham. Tickets are no longer available for this screening, but there may be seats available if festival passholders do not come to the showing. People can line up to possibly fill those seats.

To see a trailer of the film, go to farmerveteran.com

▪ “Freshly Retired,” a short film about a Charlotte retirement community switching from serving frozen ingredients to fresh produce, will be shown at 6:30 p.m. May 14 at The Cookery in Durham. The event includes bingo and pizza. Tickets cost $10. Proceeds will benefit the NC 10% Campaign, an initiative from the Center for Environmental Farming Systems that aims to have North Carolinians commit 10 percent of their food dollars to local producers. Details: nando.com/vittlesfilm

▪ “Un Buen Carnicero” will be screened at 7 p.m. May 20 at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill during a meeting of the Culinary Historians of the Piedmont, which is free and open to the public. Info: chopnc.com

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