Back to All Events

Indie Lens Pop-Up: Look & See: Wendell Berry's Kentucky (free)

  • Central Library 201 West Mifflin Street Madison, WI, 53703 United States (map)

A familiar narrative of blame weighs down this 2016 documentary about rural decline. Info/tix


Wendell Berry is a famed novelist, poet, and agricultural activist whose is rooted in observations surrounding environmentalism, economic impacts, and rural culture. Laura Dunn and Jef Sewel's 2016 documentary Look & See takes a look at Berry's home, Henry County in Kentucky, over the course of several seasons. Perspectives from both Wendell and the community focus on the obstacles a once-booming agricultural center faces. Berry often critiques the way large-scale farming and governmental regulations have broken the way of life many families still cling to. His work tackles the expansiveness of pollution, destruction of land, and the crushing weight of capitalism.

For all of this, this documentary speaks in a caustic tone. A line is drawn in the sand between rural and urban life and the blame is displaced. How is it the fault of people who have never known what it is to be agrarian? People who work in cities, use technology, and have no sense of nature are vastly different from the community that this documentary is framed around. Surely it must be their fault for this loss of traditional, rural values as opposed to a result of years of rapid industrialization and technological advancements in the states. This film is brought to the Madison Public Library through Indie Lens Pop-Up, which connects neighborhoods, residents, and community leaders for a viewing and thoughtful discussion to follow. Hopefully the discussion will touch on the fact that waxing nostalgic about a past way of life and placing blame on people who face similar problems will not answer the question of who or what is responsible for a declining rural America. (Psst, it's capitalism.)  —John McCracken