Over the past 31 years, the Palm Springs International Film Festival has garnered a well-deserved reputation of being an oasis of sun-soaked storytelling in the California desert. This January the 2020 PSFF offered an exemplary programme of films, from world premieres to spotlights on classics, from A-list attendees toasting ‘a list’ of up-and-comers at the awards galas. Within this, the documentary category truly proved there was something for everyone to sing along to and I’ve chosen 3 music genre documentary films to highlight here that truly grow on audiences from the ground up, quite literally, as we begin with a film about a tomato orchard.
When Tomatoes Met Wagner by Marianna Economou celebrated a World-Premiere at Berlinale 2019 and won the ‘Best Greek Film’ FIPRESCI Award at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival in Greece. No small potatoes for a film about two Greek cousins who work on an organic farm and make tomato and honey products by hand.
…”Encircled by mountains, the plain of Thessaly has always provided food for Greek farmers. But recently the region has hit rock bottom due to the economic crisis. In the middle of the valley lies Elias, a farming village of 33 inhabitants, with no shops, no school, not even a priest. This is where a farmer named Christos has decided to turn over his land to the organic cultivation of tomatoes. In the back of his cousin’s house, the tomatoes are pasteurized and hand-packaged by village women as purée and meals. Soon, the little jars are finding their way to the shelves of organic shops across the world. A tale about an ordinary rural community where things begin to happen in an extraordinary way” … (BERLINALE 2019)
With a curious title and humble trailer giving hints at classical music being seeded into the synopsis, this film had long sold-out all screenings ahead of its PSFF premiere. Rather than this being a documentary about the fruits of musical efforts in farming, or the hipness of the ‘slow-movement’, the film holds a simple charm and is more about following the slow movements of the aging group of farmworkers; Their humor, their worries, and their perspective looking at the world around them and a profession drying up. Never the less, this film shines a real-time glance at implications of the global socio-economic issues and the subject of agriculture being a profession on the verge of retirement due to lack of interest from the millennial generations.
Where does Wagner fit in? While the title was misleading and myself -like many others attending- thought this film would be more about tomatoes thriving under the sun and sound-waves of a specific symphony, the scenes of the farmers carefully setting their speakers among the crops made for a home-grown feeling of delight, appreciation of the dirt under the nails of where our food comes from, and a reminder to hold a sense of mindfulness when remembering what people face every day for the sake of what’s on the plate in front of us. No rotten tomatoes here.
Watch the trailer for When Tomatoes Met Wagner below!