Country (1984)

PG | 105 mins | Drama | 29 September 1984

Director:

Richard Pearce

Cinematographer:

David M. Walsh

Editor:

Bill Yahraus

Production Designer:

Ron Hobbs

Production Company:

Touchstone Films
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HISTORY

A title card at the end of the film reads: “Feb. 16, 1984; A federal judge in North Dakota ordered the U.S. government to stop all FMHA farm foreclosures until the farmers of this country receive their rights of due process under the law.”
       Actress and producer Jessica Lange conceived the idea for Country. Production notes from AMPAS library files stated that she was inspired to make a contemporary version of the Grapes of Wrath (1940, see entry), and based on her discussions with Midwestern farmers and newspaper headlines about their struggles during the early 1980s, she offered screenwriter and co-producer William D. Wittliff some general concepts for his original script. Her character, “Jewell Ivy,” was derived from women she knew growing up in small-town Minnesota, as noted in a 16 Sep 1984 LAHExam article. The project marked Lange’s producing debut.
       As described in the LAHExam, the actress first approached Hal Ashby to direct, and by spring 1983, The Ladd Company had negotiated to fund the project. When Ladd suddenly withdrew their commitment in Jul 1983, Lange was desperate to find financing in time to capture the Iowa corn harvest in the fall. After numerous rejections from other studios, The Walt Disney Company acquired the project as one of the first pictures produced under their newly established Touchstone Films, and approved an $8 million budget. However, soon after this agreement was completed, Ashby left the project, and Lange quickly got approval from Disney president, Richard L. Berger, to hire Wittliff as director, who would be making his feature film directorial debut.
       Principal ... More Less

A title card at the end of the film reads: “Feb. 16, 1984; A federal judge in North Dakota ordered the U.S. government to stop all FMHA farm foreclosures until the farmers of this country receive their rights of due process under the law.”
       Actress and producer Jessica Lange conceived the idea for Country. Production notes from AMPAS library files stated that she was inspired to make a contemporary version of the Grapes of Wrath (1940, see entry), and based on her discussions with Midwestern farmers and newspaper headlines about their struggles during the early 1980s, she offered screenwriter and co-producer William D. Wittliff some general concepts for his original script. Her character, “Jewell Ivy,” was derived from women she knew growing up in small-town Minnesota, as noted in a 16 Sep 1984 LAHExam article. The project marked Lange’s producing debut.
       As described in the LAHExam, the actress first approached Hal Ashby to direct, and by spring 1983, The Ladd Company had negotiated to fund the project. When Ladd suddenly withdrew their commitment in Jul 1983, Lange was desperate to find financing in time to capture the Iowa corn harvest in the fall. After numerous rejections from other studios, The Walt Disney Company acquired the project as one of the first pictures produced under their newly established Touchstone Films, and approved an $8 million budget. However, soon after this agreement was completed, Ashby left the project, and Lange quickly got approval from Disney president, Richard L. Berger, to hire Wittliff as director, who would be making his feature film directorial debut.
       Principal photography got underway 10 Oct 1983 in Waterloo, IA, but after nearly three weeks Wittliff resigned and filming was temporarily suspended, as reported in a 28 Oct 1983 LAT article. According to some sources, Wittliff’s “creative differences” with fellow producer Lange were related to the visual style of Neil Roach, the director of photography. The LAHExam article indicated that Lange preferred a more realistic, “gritty” approach to the story. Wittliff stated in a 29 Jan 1984 LAT article that he “didn’t come away with any sour feelings. [Lange] knew how she wanted the film to look, and I don’t begrudge her that.” On 1 Nov 1983, DV announced that Richard Pearce had been enlisted as the new director and shooting would continue later that week. Pearce’s hiring was in part due to his feature directing debut on the rural drama, Heartland (1981, see entry). When production resumed, David M. Walsh also replaced Roach as director of photography. Pearce revealed in the 29 Jan 1984 LAT that all of Wittliff’s footage was discarded and that playwright and actor, Sam Shepard, who was Lange’s co-star and romantic partner, rewrote most of Wittliff’s screenplay. Wittliff retained onscreen credit as a producer and the sole screenwriter, but did not remain on location following his departure as director, according to the LAT. Regarding his uncredited written contribution to the film, Shepard commented that, “What’s different is the tone; it’s tougher, and there’s now less sentimentality.”
       As stated in production notes, location work took place in and around Waterloo, Dunkerton, and Readlyn, IA. To represent the Ivy home, the production found a rundown, early-twentieth century farmhouse outside Dunkerton that was waiting to be torn down. The structure was refurbished as well as reinforced to accommodate the heavy camera equipment, while Readlyn’s authentic main street and grain elevator required minimal alterations for production designer Ron Hobbs. The filmmakers planned to shoot entirely on location in Iowa, but severe winter weather forced them to move to the Disney Studios in Burbank, CA, where a replica of the farmhouse was constructed for interior scenes. A 22 Dec 1983 HR brief reported that filming resumed at the studio on 19 Dec 1984. The tornado scenes, involving an overturned grain truck, were also shot there, on Stage 4. The production built a half-acre cornfield filled with stalks ready for harvesting and spent four days filming the sequence. The 29 Jan 1984 LAT reported that principal photography was completed 20 Jan 1984, twenty-five days behind schedule and approximately $2 million over budget.
       Country, along with The River and Places in the Heart, formed a trio of Hollywood “farm films” released in 1984 (see entries), all starring well-known actresses. Lange’s film shared several similarities with The River, and the actress stated in the 29 Jan 1984 LAT that she concurred with Disney’s decision to release Country three months in advance of The River.
       As announced in the 16 Aug 1984 HR, Country was unveiled on 28 Sep 1984, as the opening selection of the New York Film Festival, reportedly a first for a Walt Disney studio production.
       Critical reaction was mostly positive, and the 24 Sep 1984 HR noted, “Amazingly, this resilient film shows no signs of production problems.” Several critics commended the performance of newcomer Levi L. Knebel. According to a 22 Oct 1984 People magazine interview, the high school senior had no ambitions to act when he was offered the role of “Carlisle Ivy,” and had originally applied to drive farm machinery for the production.
       Lange received an Academy Award nomination for Actress In A Leading Role, as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance By An Actress In A Motion Picture – Drama.
       End credits include “Thanks to: Rural America Organization, David L. Ostendorf, Daniel Levitas; Iowa Film Commission, Bill Lindstrom. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
1 Nov 1983.
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Dec 1983.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 Aug 1984.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Sep 1984
p. 3, 13.
LAHExam
16 Sep 1984.
---
Los Angeles Times
28 Oct 1983
Section G, p. 1, 12.
Los Angeles Times
29 Jan 1984
Section M, p. 1, 18-20, 22.
Los Angeles Times
5 Oct 1984
p. 1.
New York Times
28 Sep 1984
p. 20.
People
22 Oct 1984.
---
Variety
26 Sep 1984
p. 15.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Far West Productions Pangaea Corporation Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
Addl 2d asst dir
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
Lighting gaffer
Best boy
Still photog
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
1st asst ed
2d asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Loc set const
COSTUMES
Cost dept supv
MUSIC
Mus supv
Mus scoring mixer
Piano solos by
SOUND
Sd supv
Prod sd
Prod sd
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Supv sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
A.D.R. ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff supv
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec photog eff
Spec visual eff
Spec photog eff cam
1st process eng
Eff cine
Main title des
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Makeup
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Livestock
Craft service
Prod coord
Scr supv
Unit pub
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Catering by
Extra casting
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunts
Stunts
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
SONGS
“Crying My Heart Out Over You,” performed by Ricky Skaggs, provided courtesy of Epic Records
“I’ll Find It Where I Can,” performed by Waylon Jennings, provided courtesy of RCA Records.
DETAILS
Release Date:
29 September 1984
Premiere Information:
New York Film Festival opening: 28 Sep 1984; New York opening: 29 Sep 1984; Los Angeles opening: 5 Oct 1984
Production Date:
10 Oct 1983--20 Jan 1984
Copyright Claimant:
Buena Vista Distribution Company, Inc.
Copyright Date:
9 October 1984
Copyright Number:
PA224317
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Lenses
Filmed in Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
105
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
27393
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

On their Iowa farm, Jewell and Gil Ivy work through the night to harvest the corn and salvage as much of the crop as they can before a violent storm arrives. Jewell’s father, Otis, and eldest son, Carlisle, assist in the field while daughter, Marlene, minds baby Missy at the house. The next day at the grain elevator, Gil picks up his check for the ninety-four bushels of corn and is surprised to see his name on a Farmer’s Home Administration (FmHA) list, which requires that the check be applied to the Ivys’ FmHA government loan. Gil needs to pay off other expenses as well, but FmHA official Fordyce and the local representative, Tom McMullen, explain that, according to a new policy, Gil’s loan is under review, and therefore the entire grain payment must be signed over to the FmHA. After Gil leaves, Fordyce advises the compassionate McMullen that he must be “tougher” with delinquent farmers and marks the Ivys' file for “voluntary liquidation.” The following week, McMullen informs Gil and Jewell that their current net worth is not high enough to support their loan debt and advises them to sell off some assets. Gil is angry the FmHA does not understand farming is a way of life, and not just a business. Jewell stays up late sorting through her bookkeeping and determines that they need to make seventy-three cents more per bushel to justify the costs of making the corn. Although Gil dismisses a telephone call from an auctioneer, he begins fixing up equipment to sell. The situation becomes urgent when the FmHA sends a letter demanding the Ivys ... +


On their Iowa farm, Jewell and Gil Ivy work through the night to harvest the corn and salvage as much of the crop as they can before a violent storm arrives. Jewell’s father, Otis, and eldest son, Carlisle, assist in the field while daughter, Marlene, minds baby Missy at the house. The next day at the grain elevator, Gil picks up his check for the ninety-four bushels of corn and is surprised to see his name on a Farmer’s Home Administration (FmHA) list, which requires that the check be applied to the Ivys’ FmHA government loan. Gil needs to pay off other expenses as well, but FmHA official Fordyce and the local representative, Tom McMullen, explain that, according to a new policy, Gil’s loan is under review, and therefore the entire grain payment must be signed over to the FmHA. After Gil leaves, Fordyce advises the compassionate McMullen that he must be “tougher” with delinquent farmers and marks the Ivys' file for “voluntary liquidation.” The following week, McMullen informs Gil and Jewell that their current net worth is not high enough to support their loan debt and advises them to sell off some assets. Gil is angry the FmHA does not understand farming is a way of life, and not just a business. Jewell stays up late sorting through her bookkeeping and determines that they need to make seventy-three cents more per bushel to justify the costs of making the corn. Although Gil dismisses a telephone call from an auctioneer, he begins fixing up equipment to sell. The situation becomes urgent when the FmHA sends a letter demanding the Ivys pay off all loans, approximately $96,000, within thirty days. Jewell is distraught about the possibility of selling off land that has been in her family for years, while Gil easily loses his temper with his children. The local bank officer is sympathetic and acknowledges that the Ivy farm is productive land, but he is unable to offer much encouragement now that his branch is part of a corporate chain. Meanwhile, neighbor Arlon Brewer faces foreclosure and tries to hide his sheep on the Ivys' farm, but McMullen seizes the flock. At the local bar, Gil confronts McMullen and complains that government officials like him once encouraged farmers to expand and feed the world, but now it is impossible to get a fair price for grain thanks to policies such as a ban on foreign sales. Resigned about the situation, Gil invites an auctioneer to inventory equipment. Otis is furious that the horse harness, which he considers a family heirloom, is part of the sale and accuses his son-in-law of being a failure. The elderly man reminds his daughter that even during hard times, he never lost ownership of the farm and believes Gil mismanaged the FmHA loan. After Arlon Brewer commits suicide, leaving behind a wife and a mentally handicapped son, Tom McMullen resigns from the FmHA. Increasingly withdrawn, Gil arrives home intoxicated one day and starts a fight with his son. When he slaps Jewell during the scuffle, she orders him to leave. At the dinner table that night, Jewell tries to reassure her worried children and remains determined to preserve her family and property. After convincing Marvin, the grain elevator operator, to let her copy the other names from the FmHA list, she appeals to the farmers to help her confront the FmHA. Some of them are reluctant to stir up trouble, but on the day of the Ivy auction, many farmers attend in support and refuse to bid on items. As they yell, “No sale!” Fordyce is forced to terminate the event. Before leaving, Fordyce reminds Jewell that it is illegal to stop a government foreclosure and he will simply transport the equipment to another auction site. Gil arrives in time to witness the act of resistance by his wife and fellow farmers. McMullen is also there, and offers to help the Ivys file an appeal in court. After the crowd disperses, Jewell invites the shamefaced Gil inside the house and encourages him to speak to Carlisle, who bought the cherished harness during the auction and returned it to his grandfather. Gil compliments his son on the gesture and apologizes about their fight. In their bedroom that night, husband and wife begin to reconcile as Jewell embraces Gil. Sometime later, a news report announces that a class action lawsuit by farmers across the U.S. has succeeded in preventing additional FmHA foreclosures, until borrowers have a chance to apply for loan extensions. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.