Directed by: #FrankieShaftainFenner
A short sweet look at honest work, there’s nothing overly memorable or spectacular about Autumn at the Oak Tree Farm but that’s not the point. This portrait documentary short from director Frankie Shaftain-Fenner is all about the beauty of the ordinary, meditating on this community-supported agriculture farm and its simplicities. The film does a fine job of exhibiting the appeal of these ventures, complete with cutaways of chickens and an adorable cat who rightfully has full reign on the place. The people interviewed are friendly enough to make you want to look up where your nearest farm share is so you can get in on the fun.
Though I enjoy Autumn at the Oak Tree Farm’s subject matter, I do have issues with its editing and runtime. Shaftain-Fenner serves as editor of the film and does a standard job in the documentary editing format; talking heads and cutaways, having voiceover accompany footage of the day, textbook stuff. The interview segments are spaced out by extended sequences of actuality from the farmwork; moving chicken coops, harvesting leeks, organising delivery crates. This footage definitely captures the portrait of Oak Tree farm, showcasing the rewarding fulfilment one can attain from this activity but Shaftain-Fenner lets the scenes run longer than needed, unable to shake the feeling it’s just filling out a mandated runtime.
In my experience, filmmakers crafting portrait documentaries have to be cautious, it’s easy to film B-roll of a person or place but it’s a whole other story in trying to craft a piece of art from it. Autumn at the Oak Tree Farm in its longest moments can just feel like dailies for a puff piece for a local news channel. Shaftain-Fenner’s directorial intention is clear but the sincerity gets muddled in the edit, the film ends up dragging and underwhelms the audience. The only dynamic image in the film is the cutaways of the chickens but their appeal only stretches so far.
It’s not an exciting subject, but that doesn’t mean it has to translate to a boring film, Shaftain-Fenner has about ten good minutes in a twenty-minute runtime. A stronger, leaner edit alongside more focused voice-over montages and a musical score would help with creating a more poignant experience. I enjoyed this film but the point of Autumn at the Oak Tree Farm is made very quickly, then everything afterwards is just needless repetition.