Arbuthnot’s Dryland Harvests Rave Reviews

Upon completion of Dryland, a feature documentary by WIF Portland member Sue Arbuthnot, with partner Richard Wilhelm, was called “The Best Movie About Coming of Age and Crashing Combines You’ll Ever See” and “a bittersweet and beautiful new film” by Modern Farmer magazine. Sue and Richard premiered the film at the 2014 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival this past February at the Historic Wilma Theater in Missoula, Montana.

Jennifer Fahy of Farm Aid also praised the film as “both a raucous celebration of the culture of agriculture and an honest look at the reality of family farming. The question at its premise, whether the family farm can sustain the next generation, is a question faced all over this country and one that is crucial to the future of the food system and our nation.”

The hopes and struggles of American farm families and rural residents are revealed through the up-close and personal stories of best friends Josh Knodel and Matt Miller. The friends compete in the Lind Combine Demolition Derby—a boisterous spectacle designed to draw tourists and support the town, as they fight to preserve the legacy of their families’ Eastern Washington wheat farms.


The project began over ten years ago when Arbuthnot and Wilhelm met Knodel and Miller and began interviewing them about the derby, the community, and their families. In an article by the dailyevergreen.com, Arbuthnot, observing the amazing tenacity and ingenuity possessed by this small, rural town saw that it could prove an inspiration to other communities facing similar struggles, noting “We really want to be able to share that message of optimism and perseverance.” Arbuthnot and Wilhelm hope to open new dialogue among viewers concerned with the source of food, the preservation of open space, and the desire to bridge the rural-urban gap.

In addition to the earthy, heartfelt stories, the film includes an original score by composer and multi-instrumentalist Mark Orton, who recently scored the award-winning Nebraska. The film includes a song donated by John Mellencamp, a founding member of Farm Aid, as well as music from the late Don Walser. The film has been profiled in Drafthorse Literary Journal, Ruralite, and Oregon Tilth magazines. For more information on the film visit Dryland on Facebook or Twitter.

Dryland, screening this spring in the Athens Int’l Film + Video Festival and the Julien Dubuque Int’l Film Festival, will screen at the 2014 Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle in May and will open the Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs, Montana in July.

Arbuthnot, a filmmaker with an MFA in Film from Columbia University, founded Hare in the Gate Productions, LLC in 1991, and with Richard Wilhelm, has produced documentaries, multi-media interpretive exhibits, and photography. Their films have received numerous grants, and a number of their productions have aired on PBS and have screened internationally. Arbuthnot has taught at the Northwest Film Center in Portland and is Vice President of the Portland Chapter of Women in Film.

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