by Jeff Niesel
Initially contracted by Oberlin’s New Agrarian Center to make a documentary film, director Tom Kondilas realized over the course of three years that it took him to make the movie, that any film he made about the local and sustainable food movement in Northeast Ohio would need to involve more time and money than the New Agrarian Center had at its disposal. So he decided that his own company, Lake Erie South Shore Productions, would take over the financing and produce the movie, ultimately titled Polycultures: Food Where We Live.
“We put in our own time and effort, both because we believed in it and wanted to see it finished to a certain standard,” he says, adding that they set a deadline so they could get it into this year’s Cleveland International Film Festival, where it was so popular, a second screening was added.
The film, which focuses on both the local sustainable food movement in Northeast Ohio and the history of the American farm (and why food quality hasn’t been a priority for the past 20 years), provides an extensive overview of what’s been happening in the world of food production for the last two decades. Divided into seven different “plots,” it’s almost too exhaustive in the amount of ground it covers. It also comes at a time when food documentaries are all the rage as flicks such as Food Fight and Food Inc. have or are about to have local showings. “Our movie is focused on trying to show people action that they can take now to help change the situation,” Kondilas says. “The other movies show the problems with how we eat and I like to think that ours is one of the few that shows people what they can do the second they leave the couch or the theater or wherever they’re watching it.”
While Cleveland isn’t known for its progressive politics when it comes to food and farming, Kondilas says the city has the kind of attitude that typifies the sustainable food movement. “I’m not a developmental economist but one thing that our movie focuses on that I would like to credit Cleveland with is the attitude of even though we’re down, we’re not out,” he says. “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Out of negative side effects of industry moving out, we have vacant land that can be used for urban agriculture. That’s one of the unique things that Cleveland has to offer. We're just trying to be hopeful and optimistic.”
Polycultures arrives on DVD next week and to celebrate the event, filmmakers from Lake Erie South Shore Productions are throwing a party at 6 p.m. Monday, June 22, at the new Greenhouse Tavern (2038 E. 4th St., 216.443.0511, thegreenhousetavern.com). There’ll be hors d’oeuvres and drink specials, and some of the interview subjects from the film are slated to attend. Ticket price includes a copy of the DVD. Tickets are $40 advance, $45 day of show. Find more information at lessproductions.com.