deutsche Version

American Dream (2002)

Duration: 56 / 84 Minutes
Format: DV / Digital Betacam
Language versions: English, German


1955. Wulf, son of a farmer in the mountains of Southern Germany emigrates to the United States. The family's tiny 20 acres farm can't support the son. In his pockets not more than a few pennies, he begins his life in the New World herding sheep on a remote desert farm in Idaho.

Time goes by. Wulf buys his first land. 300 acres of sage brush in the 'big old desert'. Wulf, his wife Carol and the 6 kids clear the land of sage and rocks. The farm grows, the kids grow. The American Dream seems to come true for Wulf.

1997. Wulf is the proud owner of a 3000 acre farm in Idaho which he farms with his sons Chris and Brian. But dark clouds begin to grow over the farm's future. The prices for all their major crops fall to such low levels, that not even 3000 acres seem sufficient to make a living any longer.

The film accompanies Wulf in his fight to save the farm through the years 1997-2001. Behind the personal struggle evolves the economic background of the agricultural markets that are increasingly monopolised by huge multinational corporations.

Will Wulf be able to save his dream?

Directors' Statement

We met Wulf in the Country Kitchen, a small farmer café in Aberdeen, Idaho. A sign on the wall said:

one coffee – 45 cents
two coffees – 90 cents
half a day of coffee – 2 dollars
full day of coffee – 3 dollars

It was September 1997. Harvest time. We had come to this remote farming community in the American West in order to do research for a film on the question how the rapid concentration of the food industry in the hands of ever fewer, ever larger corporations affected family farms.

That morning in the Country Kitchen we were in a fairly desolate mood. We had spent the best part of three weeks attempting to talk to people in the agricultural community, to farmers, university researchers, to economists, only to find out that as soon as people learned that our interest centered on some of the big food corporations most doors were closed right in front of our nose.

Our luck started to turn when we met with Jim Chapman. He had worked for more than 20 years with Lamb Weston, the biggest french frier in the area and, in fact, in the United States. Originally a family run and owned business, Lamb was bought by ConAgra, the World’s second largest food corporation, in 1988. After the takeover, Jim who had been a field manager in charge of buying potatoes from the farmers, was accused of being “the farmers’ friend”. He was not willing to pay potato prices to farmers, many of them his neighbours, that he knew would not even cover their production costs. Jim felt he no longer should work for a company that he increasingly perceived to be at the root of the growing crisis of family farms in the region. He quit work at Lamb Weston and took up the post as director of PGI - Potato Growers of Idaho, the organization of potato farmers. A move that met with little satisfaction at his former employer.

We met Jim at PGI’s little office in Blackfoot, Idaho. A little town with barely 10.000 inhabitants that prouds itself of being “the potato capital of the world”. Jim had been running PGI’s affairs for a few years then. His main business was collective price bargaining between PGI and the farmers on one side and the big food corporations on the other side. His efforts had little success. Through mergers and acquisitions there were fewer and fewer buyers he could negotiate with. Most farmers had only one or two potential buyers for their potatoes. Of course, they were reluctant to talk about their relationship with these multinationals. Jim said “If anybody will talk to you, it will be Wulf”. We hoped he was right.

Wulf was late. We had one coffee, two coffees, a morning of coffees, and wondered whether he would come at all. Finally a big GM pickup pulled up in front of the Country Kitchen. A tall, almost athletic man entered the café and walked straight up to our table. “You guys must be these German filmmakers?” He sat down and listened for five minutes to our story and our plans with a smile in his bright blue eyes. Then he said “Okay. Let’s start. Do you want to see the farm?” So we started shooting with him that very day. It was the beginning of a friendship.

We have been following the story of this man and his family for the past five years. These have been dificult years for them and it has not been easy at times to be present with our camera and sound equipment. There have been very strong moments where we have felt their agony, very powerful moments where we have shared their determination to keep on fighting, and also deeply moving moments. It has been a long struggle and we have been privileged to witness and document this very special story. We are very grateful to all the people who have participated in this film and have let us share a piece of their lives, their fears and their dreams.

We hope that this film puts a personal dimension on the daily media coverage about globalisation, mergers, acquisition, concentration of markets, money and power. We feel that the capital and efficiency gains that the corporations claim to gain through this process do by no means justify the loss of democratic control and the destruction of people’s dreams and lives that it causes.

How the film was made

This film was shot over 5 years in a two person team. Just a camera person and a sound recordist. It was our first full length documentary film. We worked with a small DV camera, initially a Sony VX1000, later on a Sony VX2000. The entire film was shot without any additional lighting.

Shooting took well over six months over the 1997 to 2001 period. Working in this small crew and with this small equipment allowed us to be as little obtrusive as possible. It was also the only way to keep the cost under control. We were just present, had time to wait for the right moments, had time not to put the people we filmed under time pressure. Coming back year after year let the relationship between us and them grow. Taking all the time we wanted was the key in making this film.

Editing and postproduction was entirely carried out on a small Avid Xpress DV system. We wanted to do the editing ourselves but with more than 120 hours of shooting material we felt the necessity to have an outsider’s view and opinion throughout the editing process. So we felt very fortunate when the Danish cutter Niels Pagh Andersen joined the project to supervise the editing of the film.

We were also very fortunate that the composer Titus Vollmer joined the team. He was just as enthusiastic about the project as we were ourselves and composed a wonderful sound track that carries the mood and drives the development of the film.

Digitizing, editing and postproduction took well over six months. Again, time was the crucial factor in shaping and refining the film. Only the use of DV as the format for shooting and editing made this film possible under the given financial constraints.


Author/director: Christoph Corves, Delia Castineira
Camera: Christoph Corves
Music: Titus Vollmer
Editing: Delia Castineira, Christoph Corves
Editing supervisor: Niels Pagh Anderson

Funded by: Arte/SWR, Kulturelle Filmförderung Schleswig-Holstein, MSH Gesellschaft zur Förderung audiovisueller Werke in Schleswig-Holstein mbH


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