'When a Town Runs Dry' Is a Beautiful Film About Trying Times

No visual trickery. No rapid-fire editing. This film is simply elegant, organic camera work coupled with strong storytelling. It's a great reminder of the subtler side of our craft.

I have a special place in my heart for farm life. I grew up working on horse farms and lived on one in Amish country for some time. It's a nearly spiritual experience: you work hard, and you live a simple life. It's rewarding, and it makes you really become one with your surroundings. A certain part of yourself becomes part of the land and vice versa. You're at the mercy of those surroundings, though. I recall years in which a dry spring meant a terrible hay crop, which would triple prices, all because we missed a few rainstorms in April.

Therefore, I can't imagine the immense toll the drought in California has taken on those who work the land or are dependent on those who do. "When a Town Runs Dry" is a poignant and heartbreaking look at the drought that not only shows its financial impact, but also captures the emotional and spiritual toll it has taken. Directed by Joris Debeij and produced by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee for Go Project films, it's filmed simply and beautifully, and that simplicity goes a long way in presenting the story in a powerful and undistracted manner. In an age in which we're often obsessed with the visual cleverness of our work, it's a great lesson in how storytelling can take precedent. Be sure to check out their website for more.

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Scott S's picture

Thank you so much for posting this, it nearly brought me to tears. I'm an agricultural photographer, and my current job is working on researching and educating ways for rural farmers to use social media to make more money, bring in the city, and revitalize rural communities.

I grew up in San Diego, taught high school agriculture near Stratford, and left in 2008 for the Mid-West. I went back to the Central Valley for a photo shoot and was in tears after I passed miles upon miles of dry dirt, dead trees, and failed crops. All those dreams, all those families, drying up. The issue of water in the Central Valley is complex, but I hope more water is released to those farmers to help grow food, keep up the jobs, and keep these rural communities in tact.

Great video and find Alex. We need more people telling the stories of our farmers (just 1.8% of the population and rapidly declining).

Scott S's picture

It's a truly complex issue where the two main water sources for California are the Sacramento River Delta (overtaxed by a growing Silicon Valley) and the Colorado River which is on lease from Nevada. really the entire state's production results from these two areas. I took water law courses in my undergrad days and I left even more confused than ever before.

But I agree with you, we need to make it a priority. Farmers are becoming more and more efficient doing their job and we've stretched them to the point where they just can't do any more.

California is a unique state because of how far it stretches from north to south. This means a wide range of crops can be ground year round. For example, the Strawberry harvest is almost constant. Hydroponic production is definitely helping bring fresh produce to areas that normally can't grow it year-round.

California will eventually have to choose between green lawns, golf courses, or food production.

Scott S's picture

Hey Pete,
Yes, at one point in the year, they can be grown. The problem is year-round demand for a seasonal product, unless it's grown hydroponically.

But what do I know, my degrees are just in agriculture :)

Anonymous's picture

I'm always conflicted when I see a video like this. I appreciate everything that went into telling the story in a compelling way but, because it succeeded in its goal, I'm left feeling drained and tired.

Jozef Povazan's picture

It is a great story. Live in Vancouver, BC and go down there every two year for family camping for couples weeks. Last time we went we were shocked, the lakes were missing which were there just 2 years before! Around the highways you see huge billboards written by farmers such 'Washington and Wall-street guys sold us for $$$ and let us dry' ... welcome to Monsanto corp greed and good luck with your health guys. Since they will have to sell the farms guess who is going to take over their deliveries of food to the store chains! It is a shame that priority are somewhere else then living in harmony with nature! Just my 50 cents since I am sad to watch it as my children grow and will keep asking me how a normal apple tasted when I was a kid. Because I can still remember! Do you? Thanks for sharing!

Scott S's picture

Let's try not to make a natural disaster (drought) a political issue (Monsanto). Can we just focus on the beauty of this film and how it was composed?