The Evolution of Organic Director Mark Kitchell: ‘Soil Can Save Us’

Posted by Caitlin Morin, February 7, 2018

By Caitlin Morin

We had an interview with Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Mark Kitchell about his new documentary The Evolution of Organic. A Cinema Verde official selection, the film tells the story of the past, present, and future of organic agriculture. The Evolution of Organic will be shown at the Ninth Annual Cinema Verde International Environmental Film Festival on February 11th from 4:33 to 6 pm at Heartwood Soundstage, 619 S. Main in Gainesville, Florida.

The Evolution of Organic, award-winning documentary filmmaker Mark Kitchell’s new film, is a story about the evolution of organic agriculture, as told by the people who built the movement: spiritual seekers, and the children of farmers who were opposed to the growth of chemical industrial farming and sought out organic substitutes. Mark Kitchell is excited to share his new film with the world and at Cinema Verde’s Environmental Film Festival. “It has been a great story and came together so well, almost easily,” Kitchell said.

This powerful film shows us how a small group of resisters were able to transform our culture and the way we grow our food. This film not only documents the past and history of organic agriculture, but also focuses on the future of the movement.

Mark Kitchell previously submitted his film A Fierce Green Fire for Cinema Verde’s 2013 Environmental Film Festival and won The Most Engaging award. In addition, A Fierce Green Fire was officially selected at the Sundance Film Festival and at the Newport Beach Film Festival.  The filmmaker is mainly known for Berkeley in the Sixties, which won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 1990 and was nominated for an Academy Award.

Below is our slightly edited q&a with Kitchell:

‘[The Evolution of Organic] was a blessed project’

Tell us a little about your background. How did you get started in filmmaking?

I grew up in San Francisco, and we were doing light shows in high school. I would compete with my older brother who was a great artist and painter with the greatest form of art at that time: filming. I went off to New York for film school and quickly fell in love with documentaries. At one point, they were making Godfather and so I jumped in and did that. Afterwards, I headed to Hollywood to produce my Seven Years in the Salt Mines, and came back up the Bay area to film Berkley in the Sixties. That film is what I am known for.

Why did you decide to make Evolution of Organic?

Well, my last film was A Fierce Green Fire, which is the big picture history of the environmental movement. It turned out to be a success and I wanted to try out other things to film once I completed A Fierce Green Fire. This time, I wanted to do some California stories. I had three ideas, and one of them was the organic agriculture movement. After eight months to a year of research, I concluded that organic agriculture was the one I should do.

It has been a great story and came together so well, almost easily. It turned out to be a great story with great character. I found the right people to tell it. It really turned out well. It was a blessed project.

What was your directorial approach to this film? How did you approach both this film and filmmaking in general, as an artist and storyteller?

This is the third film in a trio of stories about social change movements. I am thrilled to have a trio now and to be able to show them around the country. To your point, I am a real structuralist and I have been doing history. My primary tools are interviews and archival material. I was surprised to find 96 sources of archival material for the film.  The characters were great with good, natural stories. It is structured neatly into four acts. The first three acts consist of the origins, building organic, and modern organic. The fourth and final act is about the present and future of organic agriculture and the future generation. It talks about carbon farming, which is this great way to deal with climate change because the carbon goes back into the soil where it belongs.

‘Carbon farming…is the biggest solution for climate change’

What was your biggest challenge with this film?

In the end, it was the money. We ended the film being $140,000 in debt. Half that is for the editor, and the other $70,000 I have been raising for the last nine months now. In March, we are launching a funding campaign called Buy Us a Song. It is going to be used to raise $20,000 to pay for the music used in the film.  We need to pay for those music licenses.  

Where do you see the organic movement going in the future?

Organic culture will be moving toward carbon farming, which is the biggest solution to climate change. Currently, California is leading the way with funding programs to pay farmers to practice carbon farming. It takes carbon out of the atmosphere and returns it back to the ground. It happens through the miracle that is photosynthesis; the plants take the carbon in the air and sends it back to the soil. I want people at the Cinema Verde festival to know about this. Soil can save us.

What do you hope will be the impact of your film?

I always focus on the people who lived through it and the next generation. I want the film to influence the present and future of organic agriculture. People all over care about where their food comes from and are interested in organic food. They are the natural audience for this film. Here is the story of where this came from.  I am hoping to reach those 10 million people who buy organic food.

You can learn about how you can support Evolution of Organic on the film’s website. You can buy tickets for Cinema Verde here.

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