Laid-back look at the surprisingly wide variety of gay lifestyles to be found in the rural slow lane, docu presents a veritable gallery of candid snapshots taken by helmer Tom Murray as he journeyed around the country. Pleasant, unassuming pic might find warmest welcome on PBS or cable.

Laid-back look at the surprisingly wide variety of gay lifestyles to be found in the rural slow lane, “Farm Family” presents a veritable gallery of candid snapshots taken by helmer Tom Murray as he journeyed around the country. Murray, who can occasionally be glimpsed in the frame and looks like a particularly benevolent white-haired old gentleman, seems to effortlessly elicit unselfconscious outpourings of past experiences and future aspirations. Pleasant, unassuming pic might find warmest welcome on PBS or cable.

Murray grew up on a farm in Illinois before the gay life drew him to the city. He cleverly opens docu with a corny 1950 black-and-white short subject about rural education that featured him, his siblings and their teacher in their quaint one-room schoolhouse.

The rural communities he visits don’t seem very different today, at least from the outside. Perhaps surprisingly, Murray finds queerness does not necessarily translate into problems for gay men born and raised on family farms.

For a fourth generation Wisconsin dairy farmer, the realization that he was gay didn’t seem to bother anyone in the community, even though he was active in many groups where he worked with youths. His partner/hired hand hails from a brood with as many as 11 gay members. Family gatherings, he explains, tend to break up into three distinct factions — the Bob Jones U. contingent, the gay group and the plain old alcoholics.

Gay newcomers who seek asylum from the urban rat race never know exactly what they’re going to find. For one city couple, a farm offered a perfect opportunity to start the family that they have always wanted — they adopt five kids over the space of a few years.

For others, however, the peace and quiet of the countryside can be illusory. A couple attempting to create a retreat, a hermitage without electricity or running water in the middle of the Pennsylvania Dutch country, were victims of a witch hunt when townsfolk discovered their flamboyant Web site.

One of the biggest drawbacks to being queer in the heartland, Murray finds, is loneliness and difficulty in meeting like-minded gay men. As one man at a huge festive Wyoming gay gathering called the Rendez-Vous puts it, the chance of finding a gay man interested in agriculture is about the same as being struck by lightning. Gay rodeos provide communal meeting grounds for the macho-minded while the spiritually inclined Radical Faeries gather in more fey surroundings.

Pic’s talking heads, in couples or solo, captured in their natural habitats are hardly the stuff of heady excitement — yet they make for rather serene gay encounters of an unexpectedly rural kind. Tech credits are fine.

Farm Family: In Search of Gay Life in Rural America

Production

A TJMV production. Produced, directed, written, edited by Tom Murray.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Murray, Jamie A. Lee, Dawn Mikkelson; music, Mark Weugle, Yall. Reviewed at NewFest, New York, June 6, 2004. Running time: 74 MIN.
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