From Austin, Texas, Laura Dunn is one of the directors of Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry. The film is a intimate appraisal of the titular writer and environmental activist Wendell Berry. You can find out more about Laura Dunn and her work in the Q&A below.
What is your connection to the South?
I was born in New Orleans. My whole family is from southern Mississippi, and while I moved all over the place with my parents growing up, I always felt most at home in Mississippi, spending all of my holidays and summers there. I also have roots in North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee. After being a fish out of water at Yale University for college, I got back south as fast and thoroughly as I could, attending grad school in Austin, TX. I married a Texan and am now apparently stuck in Texas. The rural south runs in my veins and inspires all of my art.
Where did you get your inspiration for this work?
Wendell Berry has long been one of my favorite writers — he renders the world I hope to live in — and when I toured my last film, The Unforeseen, which features a poetry reading by Mr. Berry, I was struck by how few people seemed to know of his work. I wanted to simply point an arrow to his writings.
How did you start making films?
In response to a painful cognitive dissonance I experienced while an undergrad at Yale in the late 1990’s. I was a student worker in the dining hall and in turn a de facto member of the International Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union. With the extreme wealth at the university and the hard urban poverty of New Haven as the context, when the workers went on strike to protest Yale’s attempt to cut wages and benefits, I found myself in 2 parallel universes. I had a friend who had a camera and was a good videographer, so I asked him to help me start documenting the unfolding conflict. Film was a natural language for juxtaposing and intercutting dual realities, and that process became a very personal one for me as I worked to make sense of my “education.” The result was a 30 minute student film “The Subtext of a Yale Education.” I’ve been working in documentary ever since.
Did anything interesting or funny happen on set during the shooting?
It’s hard to pinpoint one thing. Doc work is full of surprises, good and bad. The most memorable moment though was on our winter shoot. We were in Kentucky for 17 days with camera in hand waiting and hoping for snow. We waited the full 16 days, and then in the early morning of the 17th day, it started to snow. We filmed from sunrise to sunset at this beautiful white snow blanketed the landscape.
What do you look forward to the most during Indie Grits?
I unfortunately won’t be able to travel to Columbia, I’m a homeschooling mom to 6 boys on the side so travel is really tricky, but I’m most excited about the film playing alongside my southern brothers and sisters and contributing to a celebration of the south.
Why should someone see your film?
We find ourselves in the context of dramatic divisions between the urban and rural, a division that has political and ecological implications for all of us, and I can’t think of a better bridge-building voice than Wendell Berry.