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'For Auction' Looks At Farm Crisis

February 24, 1986|CLARKE TAYLOR

NEW YORK — A glimpse of the country's deepening farm crisis can be seen almost nightly on the network news, but a closer, more revealing look is coming on public television.

It is "For Auction: An American Hero," a one-hour documentary by noted film-maker Robert Drew, due to be broadcast on KCET Channel 28 Tuesday at 10 p.m.

"I felt a closer look was needed to let us all see and perhaps empathize more with what's really going on out there," Drew said in a telephone interview. "Over the past year or so, as I've watched farmers on the nightly news--at auctions, or protests, or just standing on street corners answering questions--I have found them to seem more like figures than real people. I know they're real people, but there is something (misleading) about a quick look and a voiceover."

Drew's documentary focuses on an auctioneer, himself a farmer fallen on hard times, as he travels the dwindling family-farm circuit, auctioning off one farm after another. En route, the auctioneer and Drew's camera come upon hardship stories ranging from foreclosures to suicides. But the documentary also reports on the factors that have led to the current crisis.

Drew, whose 1960s' documentaries about John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign, "Primary," and the civil rights movement, "Crisis," are considered classics of cinema verite, said that he spent five weeks in Nebraska and Iowa last spring and summer "just letting the camera show what's going on in the farm belt and how the farmers feel."

He acknowledged that news programs such as ABC's "Nightline" and PBS' "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" recently have devoted blocks of time to the farm crisis, but complained that such network news reports are "very controlled and very verbalized, and tend to overlook the human elements in the story."

"TV journalism tends to analyze and give the broad strokes, and in this case it presents us with the economic facts," he said. "But there is another, human fact that has to do with people all across this country and what's happening to them and to our heritage, and I hope this documentary makes people start thinking more about these problems."

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