By Lewis Bennett
Mr. Bennett is a documentary filmmaker.
Oct. 9, 2018
To make this film, my co-director, Ben, and I spent six days camped out at my family’s long-abandoned farm deep in the Saskatchewan prairie. We pitched our tents in the farm’s old Quonset hut, temporary guests in what has become a permanent home for obsolete farm equipment and a thriving family of mice. Besides the ever-present fear of ticks, it was a relaxing way to spend a few days — lots of coffee and inane banter.
We were on a road trip across Canada and had planned to stop in at the farm, something I don’t get to do often enough, and decided to shoot a little footage. A few days later, we had a full-fledged short documentary on our hands, with our subjects — my mom, Joan, and my Aunt Neanie — ready to recall their memories of growing up in this special, remote place.
I grew up in the suburbs of Vancouver, British Columbia, so my mom’s accounts of daily life on the farm always seemed a little foreign. Once she told me about how when she was a child in the 1960s, her family turned a small bedroom upstairs into a bathroom. The new bathroom was a big deal: They didn’t have to go outside to the outhouse anymore. If you had visited them then, they would have proudly given you a tour of the first indoor plumbing in their house.
No one can recall who was responsible but in the early days of the new bathroom, one of the girls knocked an ashtray off the wall, where it fell onto the new blue bathtub and made a small chip in the porcelain. This blemish took me a few minutes to find but back then my grandpa spotted it right away and he was livid. “What’s the point of having nice things?” my mom recalled him saying.
As she told me the story, you could tell that disappointing my grandpa still mattered, even though he was no longer with us. Even though the bathtub was now covered in dust and dead insects. And even though the farmhouse was slowly sinking into the dirt basement, taking that old blue tub and all the memories it contains with it.
I remember my grandpa only as a quiet man with a sweet smile. A constant supplier of hugs and loonies (our Canadian coins). I’m sure he didn’t think much about that chip in subsequent years, but his children still feel the guilt. Most of us carry things like this with us, the ways we shaped our home and, sometimes, disappointed our parents, alongside the fonder memories of childhood. My mom and aunt conjure some of those happier glimpses of home in this film: the sound of cattle, strong winds, laughter and friends, and the resonant hum of frozen telephone lines.
If you’re among the work-obsessed, perhaps you could also take note of my grandpa’s late-in-life realization about priorities. Maybe we should be spending a little more time with our loved ones and a little less time focused on our crops. Or, in my case, I suppose, making our melancholic documentary films.
Lewis Bennett is a documentary filmmaker in Vancouver, British Columbia. Films by him and his co-director Benjamin Taft have screened at many film festivals, including TIFF, SXSW, and Hot Docs.
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