By Megan Myers
Photography by Marc Brown
On a muggy, overcast Thursday in the middle of Austin’s South By Southwest film, interactive and music festival, filmmaker Christian Remde sets up for an interview shoot. We’re at the calm oasis of Springdale Farm, and the quiet of the morning is broken only by the dull roar of the farm’s Gator truck and jets traversing the flight path.
This is Remde’s third shoot among Springdale’s picturesque garden rows, and at this point, he’s a familiar friend—during the shoot, one of the farm cats comes out and lounges nearby, as though the camera is simply additional farm equipment. Certainly, Remde feels comfortable in his role as interviewer; he patiently preps his interviewee, Judith McGeary of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, for the onslaught of questions to come.
McGeary, who worked with Remde in December of 2011 on his short film, SB-81–The Texas Cottage Food Law, isn’t fazed by the questions or the noise that interrupts filming every few minutes. “Inability to talk has never been my problem,” McGeary says with a laugh as they wait for yet another airplane to fly over the farm.
Remde has worked in film for more than 15 years—creating music videos and DVD title screens and working for such corporate clients as Citigroup, MetLife and MasterCard. In 2011 he decided to challenge himself and push the boundaries of what he knew about filmmaking by creating an assignment he dubbed the Twelve Films Project. Suddenly Remde had to create one film per month, and he realized that he had a perfect subject when it came to the Austin food scene. His profile of Chef Bryce Gilmore in Farm to Trailer was his first foray into documentary work—an idea he hit upon after he and his wife Julie first tasted Gilmore’s food. “I thought it was really ballsy and cool to do something totally local,” he says, talking about Gilmore’s former food trailer and now brick-and-mortar restaurant. Remde decided it was important to show the alternatives to the standard American diet and the good being done in communities like Austin. “It’s just so easy to eat [processed] food and that’s the problem—we haven’t made it easy to eat the right way.”
It turned out that Farm to Trailer was only the tipping point in a life that was already tilted toward working with food. “If I hadn’t gotten into film I would have gone to culinary school,” Remde says. That interest in food helped connect him to charcuterie experts Lawrence and Lee Ann Kocurek, and their developing friendship led to a natural choice for the next documentary.
Charcuterie, the result of that friendship and filming, is the most popular of Remde’s shorts from the Twelve Films Project—earning mentions from the Austin Chronicle, Grub Street and Food & Wine, among others.
Remde has developed a faithful audience for his collection of food shorts—with more than 10,000 views on the Twelve Films Project website for the four films combined—and the short film Local recently screened at the Hill Country Film Festival. Yet, he’s modest about his success and prefers to stay focused on his current work of turning Local into a full-length film.
Remde’s filmmaking setup is tight. Instead of a large video camera and multiple assistants, at this shoot Remde relies instead on two small Canon 7D cameras on tripods and one person, Paul Toohey, to manage sound levels. Interviews typically last two hours, but in editing get cut to about five minutes of screen time. Remde says that the length of filming helps get the subject “revved up,” especially as farmers are often not used to trading in their tractors for interview chairs. Fortunately for Remde, some interviewees don’t need such prepping. “Kris Olsen [of Milagro Farms] just turns it on,” he says.
Despite the onslaught of recent documentaries examining the dire state of America’s food system, Remde believes Local, like the film Fresh, offers some ways to fix the system. The Sustainable Food Center (SFC) was more than eager to be a part of the film. Susan Leibrock, SFC’s community relations director, was filmed at Springdale Farm in March. “[We’re] addressing the root causes of issues ranging from hunger to childhood obesity, ecological impacts of conventional agriculture and, of course, strengthening our local economy,” says Leibrock.
While the Local short focused on Austin, Remde is getting some of his footage in San Francisco for the longer film. Austin is known nationwide as an upstart in the local food scene, and by comparing it to the well-developed food community in San Francisco, he hopes to be able to point out where Austin can improve. “Christian’s feature is making a case…that this isn’t a time for bench-sitting and hand-wringing about what’s wrong with the system,” Leibrock says. “He is telling a story of hope.”
Watch Christian Remde’s short film Local