People worried about land-use issues usually don’t laugh about them. But a Michigan filmmaker has made a romantic comedy about development pressures on America’s farmland. Director Rich Brauer hopes the humor of his movie “Barn Red” will make the issue more accessible for the general public. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Peter Payette reports:
People worried about land-use issues usually don’t laugh about them. But a
Michigan filmmaker has made a romantic comedy about development pressures
on America’s farmland. Director Rich Brauer hopes the humor of his movie
“Barn Red” will make the issue more accessible for the general public. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Peter Payette reports:
You might call Micheal Bollini puzzled at the beginning of the movie, “Barn
The old fruit farmer played by actor Ernest Borgnine is a picture of rugged self-
reliance. But he’s bewildered by the pressure he’s under to get out of farming.
“Did you ever get that feeling that you’re going too fast and you pass a police car
and he’s got his radar at you. That’s how I feel when they talk about selling the
farm and everything. It gives me butterflies in my stomach. Terrible.”
Bollini can’t comprehend developer Paul Haight, played by actor Wayne David
Parker. In their first meeting, Haight tells Bollini he figures Bollini has to sell his
farm. Haight wants to build a subdivision there called Oak Wind. In a
conversation with his assistant, Haight calls Bollini’s 240- acre family farm a
HAIGHT: “So you go in here, drive up this way, turn here and your home.”
ASSISTANT: “Oak Winds is a good name. Bollini has a ton of oaks up there.”
HAIGHT: “Actually we’ll cut those down and plant this… it’s a
juniperous…something. They grow faster and there’s no leaves, no messy yards,
no leaves to clean up. So they’re perfect, no lousy squirrels.”
He goes onto say they’ll plant purple loosestrife for ground cover in Oak Wind.
Purple loosestrife is an invasive species that chokes out other the naturally
Haight can’t figure out why loosestrife is so cheap.
A lot of the humor in “Barn Red” lampoons characters with their own lack of
Bollini, the farmer, doesn’t open letters from the IRS that say he owes hundreds
of thousand of dollars in estate taxes.
Haight, The developer, gets poison ivy while trespassing on Bollini’s property.
In this scene a woman notices him scratching himself.
WOMAN: “Look’s like a pretty nasty rash you got there.”
HAIGHT: “I don’t know what the heck it is. I’m doing all I can not to scratch it,
but it seems to be spreading.”
WOMAN: “Looks like poison ivy to me. Good thing you put that pink stuff on
HAIGHT: “Oh, yeah, I sure hope it clears it up. I don’t know where I could have
gotten it at.”
The Filmmaker, Rich Brauer, says he made his movie entertaining so people will
pay attention to an issue he cares about.
Brauer lives in a rural part of northern Michigan. The region is under as much
development pressure as just about any place in the Midwest.
And Brauer’s been involved with land-use issues for years. He says he didn’t
have to invent the antics of the developer from scratch. He just had to tell about
some of the things he’s seen.
“I’ve seen these guys and I thought they were kidding. But they weren’t. Therein
lies comedy. So all I did…I just sort of created a character that echoed what I
had experienced in real life…This isn’t just completely off of a blank sheet of
paper…I was inspired by reality.”
The developer isn’t the butt of every joke.
In one scene the township clerk gets out their master plan to show to a friend of
Bollinis. She tells how it cost the township 150 thousand dollars and then the
plan just sat on the shelf for last five years.
People unfamiliar with planning and zoning might miss the sarcasm here.
But Larry Mawby didn’t. Mawby owns a vineyard in the township where “Barn
Red” was filmed. He’s been involved in local government there for twenty years.
Mawby says the county put together a state-of-the-art master plan in the mid-90s.
Mawby says people came from other parts of the state to see what they had done.
“That master plan has been totally and completely ignored. The Board of
Commissioners doesn’t pay attention to that master plan at all. Where they’re
citing the jail is contrary to their master plan. None of their facilities questions
have they ever looked at that master plan or paid attention to it. It’s like, what’s
the point here?”
The point of laughing about it in a movie may be to get everybody to lighten up.
Glenn Chown is the executive director of the Grand Traverse Regional Land
Brauer consulted with Chown while writing the script for his movie.
Chown thinks the levity of “Barn Red” will help the image of environmentalists.
“Sometimes we can be accused of being all gloom and doom. And the sky is
falling and it’s all falling apart and we’re all doomed. And I think we need to
lighten up a little bit. If we do lighten up a little bit, we’ll reach people more
But… the film ends with a little gloom and doom.
Between the end of the movie and the credits a figure from the American
Farmland Trust appears on the screen. It says America loses more than 1.2
million acres of farmland to sprawl each year.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Peter Payette.