"Don't Get in the Water!" Runoff in the Heartland

Submitted by GMO Inside on June 25, 2015

by Carly Giddings, Food Campaigns Intern

Documentaries are one of the most effective media for engaging curious minds in big-picture conversations. The film Runoff, a compelling and conscious story about a Kentucky farm family, plays a dual role of documentary and fictional drama. In this story, the protagonist is a mom of two boys named Betty Freeman who runs a flailing farm supply business with her husband Frank. Like many middle-American farm families, the Freeman’s endure financial turmoil at the hand of a big agricultural corporation, Gigas. Gigas not only takes their business and threatens to evict them, it effectively diminishes the ecological purity and communal energy of their small town. Tempted to sacrifice personal morality for financial uplift, Betty executes an illicit job to preserve the health and goodwill of her family. It is easy to resonate with the Freeman’s hardship, and even easier to feel enraged with the corporate politics at fault.

Runoff frames Big Ag companies, like Gigas on screen and Monsanto in real life, for the economic oppression, medical hazards, and ecological permutation that most middle-American farm families face. As portrayed in the film, local, family-run agricultural business are crippled by the constant mergers and technological advancements of Big Ag companies who seize territorial, chemical, and ecological control of their communities. Local farmers determined to hold onto their land, like Betty and Frank’s longtime client Scratch, are tempted by the promise of up and coming technology. They buy into the shortcuts of Big Ag supply companies and push their neighbors out of the business. Once this starts, a domino effect takes hold. There is a near constant flow of “the next best thing”: the next best pesticide, herbicide, and antibiotic that appears to be an easy fix for local farmers competing with corporate yields. Small farmers struggle to keep up, leaving small supply companies without an income.

Finally, this film seeks to impart a sense of ecological urgency on its viewers. The harsh reality is that we have tainted something historically pure and turned it into something that can cause us harm. Herein lies a paradox: the earth remains necessary for human health and well-being, yet it has also become a detriment to the same, thanks to a destructive cycle of ecological abuse. Runoff successfully gives this paradox a human face with the case of Frank Freeman; the sale of herbicides and pesticides fuels his business at the expense of his health. Runoff makes the harsh reality of ecological permutation relatable by tugging at human heartstrings, yet it also imparts hope that some of this reality is reversible if viewers harness the courage to fight corporate control. Director Kimberly Levin’s character development and storytelling ability is bound to leave you feeling empathetic and ready for change – if only Big Ag companies themselves would “run off”.

Runoff is premiering in NYC June 26 – July 1. RSVP on Facebook.

LA and other dates will be announced soon. Digital release is July 28.  

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