In the war between the countryside and the city, which side are you on? At the libertarian Anthem Film Festival, July 9-12, 2014, viewers saw that war played out in two films about two wars, a generation apart.
Beyond Courage: Surviving Vietnam as a POW brought back questions, controversies, and anger from a war which was the model for the Chinese Communist vision of the peasants in the countryside rising up and overcoming the city. Empire State Divide brought viewers into the world of today and a war by the city on the countryside.
Beyond Courage: Surviving Vietnam as a POW, presented by associate producer Ron Miller, documented the return of US Air Force personnel to the North Vietnamese prison camps where they had been tortured years before. The footage the producers shot was combined with historical film, provided by Vietnam, which had not previously been released.
Miller explained that in 1993, his group was the first film crew to return to Vietnam. Some of the POWs brought family members. Their discussions were touching, scary, and at times funny. One former POW claimed he was glad that there were ants all over the bread they were given in the camp. “It was the only protein we got,” he said.
What surprised me most was that during the Q&A following the film, some of the questions, or rants, bore so much vehemence and vitriol that you might have thought the war had only ended last year. The accuracy of the film was questioned, and perhaps the most shocking attack came from an audience member who objected to the film because, he said, “It made these men look like heroes.”
An attack on Vietnam veterans – I suddenly felt like I was back at UCLA in 1971.
There was a long silence from the panel after this rant. The questioner continued, “You don’t have an answer do you?”
Miller replied, “That doesn’t deserve an answer.” The majority of the audience cheered and applauded.
This exchange highlighted a rift in the libertarian community. Libertarians are mostly united on economic issues, but when it comes to foreign affairs and wars, there is no default libertarian position.
Skip forward forty years to modern day New York and the tables have been turned. The countryside is on the defensive against the city. Ironically, some of those anti-Vietnam War protesters of the 1960s have become “the man.” Their vision for the countryside no longer includes hammers and sickles, just nice, unspoiled views for the “second homers.”
Empire State Divide focuses on farmers in upstate New York and their efforts to maintain a viable rural economy. It takes the viewer “to the ruins” of the Hudson River Valley, where local farming, small industry, and innovation are being “protected out of existence.”
Following the film, a panel of farmers and economists expanded on the issues the film raised.
On the macro level, the countryside is having a problem because natural gas has been discovered. You’d think that would be a good thing. Its discovery drove-up property values and then the state created a “temporary moratorium,” lasting six years so far, until the effects of drilling can be properly studied.
According to Karen Moreau, a former NY state dairy farmer, “One of the dairy farmers in the film brought a suit against the state that was prohibiting drilling on her land,” she said. “The courts ruled against her. The land owners and most of the small towns in the area are in favor of drilling, but the Sierra Club and other environmentalists come in and create chaos.”
On the micro level, farmers face smothering regulation. Another farmer, Martha Bonita, who purchased Liberty Farm, which has been in use since colonial days, gave this example. “I decided to use my farm as a venue for children’s birthday parties. When a local administrator saw a party announcement on Facebook, he informed me I would need to have a special event permit, inspections, and so on. We had to cancel. Later I tried to have a pumpkin carving event and I was shut down again because I wasn’t licensed for selling produce on site.”
Moreau added that conservation easements are another tool being used against farmers. If a ditch runs through your property and it sometimes has water in it, it becomes a waterway under EPA protection. “Conservation easements are a dangerous infringement on your ability to produce wealth for your family,” she said. “My grandfather shoveled coal here; my father bought this farm, loved the land, and added to it every time he could. It is now the aim of these elitists from the city to drive the farmers off. It is going to stop agriculture.”