“Troublesome Creek: A Midwestern” is a deeply personal document about an Iowa family’s struggle to hold on to their farm in 1990-91. Technically proficient and laced with welcome touches of humor, this winner of both the jury and audience docu awards at Sundance may gain bookings in nontheatrical outlets before television airings.
Husband-and-wife team of Jeanne Jordan and Steven Ascher began filming shortly after hearing that Jeanne’s father, Russell Jordan, learned he might lose the farm that had been in his family for over a hundred years. In previous years, Russell had gotten by with the help of loans from a local bank. But the bank’s new owners were proving far less sympathetic to his precarious financial state, to the point of calling in an accumulated $200,000 debt.
Serving as narrator as well as co-director, Jeanne offers a sometimes amusing , sometimes bittersweet history of the farm and the family that worked it. (Back in the 1880s, she recalls, her great-grandfather fought off the notorious Crooked Creek Gang.) Bulk of the well-paced pic, however, concentrates on her father’s efforts to raise money by liquidating all the machinery and livestock and selling all but the most necessary household items.
For the most part, Russell and wife Mary Jane maintain a stoic dignity as they oversee the sale, punctuating the proceedings with mordant jokes. Mary Jane occasionally raises a feisty objection, demanding that certain cherished knickknacks and pieces of furniture be saved. But she knows, as does her husband , that drastic steps are needed in order to turn the farm over to Jeanne’s older brother Jim, after they retire.
The filmmakers’ attention to detail lends a universal quality to their story. The Jordans receive sympathy and support from their neighbors, many of whom have already had their own farms foreclosed. Others drive miles through snow just to be with them on auction day.
“Troublesome Creek”– namedafter a twisty waterway on the Jordan farm — repeatedly uses clips from classic Westerns to underscore the view of the farmer’s struggle as a new-fangled variation on the classic match between good guys and bad guys. But there is no clear-cut, happy ending. Sheldon Mirowitz’s beautiful musical score enhances the pic’s overall mood of wistfulness.
Ascher’s 35mm cinematography is excellent. Other tech credits are pro.