Interview with the Filmmakers
Visiting the Farm
Q: Have you spent much time at the farm since your brother has taken ownership?
JEANNE JORDAN: Well, I would say that given the fact that we were there
almost all the time during the year that we were filming, it hasn't
seemed like much time because we were there so much. Basically whenever
we go home, now we stay in town with my Dad. But it's -- we always go
out there and spend a lot of time out there, and our son loves to go out
there. You know, it's the farm.
Q: Aside from the physical changes, does it have a different feel now?
JEANNE JORDAN: Definitely because it's, you know, three kids live
there, number one, so there are the bikes, you know, when you drive in
because my parents had been there alone for quite some time. And
they've done a lot of different things with the house. And it's their
house now. It feels like Jim and Gini and James and Jesse and Grace's
house now, not mother and daddy's.
Jim Jordan's Decision Real Audio
STEVEN ASCHER: After about three years he realized that with three kids
getting ready to go to college he needed to have more cash income, and
he went back to school and was trained in engineering and drafting. And
now his primary income-producing work is building bridges, basically.
He's a foreman on a construction -- for a construction company. He has
some -- about 60 acres that he farms himself on nights and weekends and
then the rest of the crop land is rented out to neighbors.
Off-The-Farm Work Real Audio
JEANNE JORDAN: It's a common arrangement these days. It didn't used to
be. But basically if someone doesn't have the money to buy more land
and be a bigger farmer, I think that many of them have found that having
an off-the-farm job, having that extra income is pretty necessary. His
wife also teaches so they have two incomes to basically help support
their lifestyle on the farm.
STEVE ACSHER: And the good part is that the land is still in the
Pioneer Mentality Real Audio
JEANNE JORDAN: None of us were expecting my dad to be as easygoing and
graceful about turning the farm over as he was. That has continued to
be true about almost everything in life these days with my dad. He
really thought it was a good idea for Jim to go back to school. He's so
incredibly proud of Jim's straight A's, and he was sort of the star of
his class and also about 20 years older than anybody else in his class.
And I think my dad just sees -- he's got this real mentality where he
sees all kinds of things as pioneering. So I think he's got Jim in that
category now. He's pioneering the new way to farm and to keep it going.
Big Changes for Russel and Mary Jane Real Audio
JEANNE JORDAN: We were all amazed that they loved moving into town.
They loved this little house. It was a house on one floor which they'd
never had so that seemed exotic to them. They got -- mother got new,
small oak furniture other than her enormous Ethan Allen furniture that
she'd had at the farm. They were very happy living there. I remember
that summer when we came back to see them there. Daddy said something
to us like, "If we won the lottery tomorrow and could live anywhere in
the world, we'd live right here."
A Very Difficult Year Real Audio
JEANNE JORDAN:Unfortunately within the next year my mother had a heart
attack in 1992 and had a heart bypass and that was very hard for them to
deal with, but they did fine. And then in 1994 she was diagnosed with
Lou Gehrig's disease and only lived for a year after that. So she died
in May of '95. That was at the same time we were finishing the film.
And she did get to see the film which was wonderful.
Carrying On Real Audio
JEANNE JORDAN: For my father I think that if it hadn't been for the film
and the fact that it came out at this time and was successful, I think
that the last year would have been just a horrible time for him. But
instead it's been a very wonderful experience.
He went with us to the Sundance Film Festival. He went to the Academy
Awards with us where he was mistaken for Sean Connery twice. So whole
new vistas opened up. Perhaps he has a future on the screen. It's been
hard, but also -- like as people saw in the film, my family -- I
wouldn't say "stoic" is the word -- it's just -- they just keep moving;
they keep going, and he is.
Intimate Access Real Audio
STEVEN ASCHER: As filmmakers when you have that kind of intimate access
with your subjects, you can film things that you can't film with
strangers. And so you always go in with kind of trying to balance your
desire to get in very close and also because you know them, in this case
they're family, you also want to protect them. We really tried to film
as truthfully as possible and get the important things that were going
on and not hold back in those moments to not shoot. By and large the
family was completely accepting of everything that we wanted to film.
They never questioned it. And they never asked to see anything. They
really left it in our hands.
Local Reaction Real Audio
STEVEN ASCHER: The real trial by fire was when the film opened
theatrically in Atlantic, Iowa this January which they were far more
nervous about than any of the Academy Award stuff or anything, you know,
because this is like the hometown crowd. Russ didn't even want to come
to the theater because he was afraid people would be critical.
The response from the town was just astounding. This was a 300-seat
theater that sold out every night for, like, three weeks. More than the
population of the town had, by that time, seen the film. And really
just incredible reinforcement for the family too because people would
come up to them on the street and tell them their story about what
happened on their farm or -- anybody who's seen the film knows that, you
know, you become very intimate with the Jordan family. You feel like
you're part of the family.
Daughter/Filmmaker Real Audio
JEANNE JORDAN: There would just be moments where I was just a filmmaker
and knew what worked, what didn't work. And there was also situations
in thinking about it where I could push for things that Steve would
never have pushed for. For instance, something I did everything but
apologize to mother and daddy for in the film which is talking them into
going up to Rolfe to look at the house that we lived in when I was
little. Daddy didn't want to do it. And he hadn't seen it for 15
years. He didn't see why I should see it now. And I basically wheedled
him for, like, three days.
Every time I found him alone I would, "You know, daddy, it would be nice
if we could -- and did this thing where he finally said, "Okay we'll do
it." And went up. And it's a great scene. And like I said, I feel bad
because I made them have an experience that was very hard for them. And
I felt later that it wasn't a great thing I'd done it as a daughter, but
it was real good thing I did it as a filmmaker.
A Faulty System Real Audio
JEANNE JORDAN: One of the things that drove me crazy throughout the 80's
and the "farm crisis" and watching what the art world, the media world,
whatever, did with this: It was just such cartoon characters, the good
farmer, the bad banker, and it's not the way it is. And in many of
these situations, these were people who were very good friends at one
time because it's a small bank and a small farm. Then bigger
conglomerates come in to buy the bank. The same guy often times had to
tell his friends that their credit was running out. In some ways it's
merciful when they send in a guy who doesn't know the people, which they
did in my parent's case.
STEVEN ASCHER: The film sets up with the idea of westerns where there
are clear good guys and bad guys. And some people will extend that to
our making the claim that the bankers are the bad guys and the farmers
are the good guys. On the contrary. We're trying to show it's a much
more complex reality. The midwestern reality is much more complicated
than the western myth.
We don't think of bankers as bad guys. They made a reasonable, economic
decision based on the fact that a farm the size of the Jordans' in good
years makes very little money; in bad years it can lose a lot of money.
It's a problem of the system. And everybody's caught up in that system.
The Rural Response Real Audio
JEANNE JORDAN: Rural audiences get it much more. Although, you know,
urban audiences are what made the film and love it and everyone brings
something apparently to the film from their own life. It's got
universals in it so people react. Anybody that's ever had financial
trouble identifies with it. Everyone who has a mother who is a pack
rat, and apparently there are quite a few of us out here, identifies
with it. And so that's been great. But when you show it in to rural
audiences, to farmers, it's a completely different experience for me
because they just get everything, every little twisted humor thing or
reference at all.
A Second Act Real Audio
STEVEN ASCHER: I think one thing I think about that Russ's story touches
for urban people and anybody -- I mean Fitzgerald had this line about
how there are no second acts in American lives. And, in fact, there
often are second and third and fourth. To see somebody who has spent
his entire life, and the lives of all of his immediate ancestors had
been geared toward the same way of life and the same career path as
farmers, you know, go all the way through his life and then say, "Okay,
I have to stop this. I have to change gears completely." In this way
that nobody could have predicted that he would have to, and he did it
with so much kind of grace and good humor. I think that's a real
JEANNE JORDAN: It's definitely been the biggest learning experience for
me in the film. I think that there's this way that I've thought people
stop changing at a certain time. I'd never sat down and thought it out,
but I would say probably around 60 maybe I thought that you sort of end,
especially my father who seemed to be written in stone a long time ago.
And he is such a different person now than he was in the 50's. He's
such a different person now than he was ten years ago with that kind of
worry, the level of worry and responsibility that I think farmers always
lived with, things out of your control. I mean, you are such a little
ant. And I think that his life now, except for missing my mother
terribly and feeling like it's just not fair that they didn't get to do
this part of it together. I think that he is in a kind of new phase of
his life and I think that that's one of the real hidden lessons in the
film and I think it's why a lot of older people are coming to see the
That Darn Cat Real Audio
Q: How is the cat?
JEANNE JORDAN: It's a controversy because there is a rumor in Atlantic,
Iowa that there was more than one cat. And that the cat in my brother
John's hands looks bigger than that cat. Well, that's because he's a
lot closer. But I just wanted to sort of address that the cat on the
barn is such a metaphor in so many ways. We use it in the film as a
metaphor for the family. It's also a metaphor for us on some levels
because when we are were out there filming that was during the first
shoot, and it was at a time when we did not know what we were doing. We
were filming all the time, and random events were happening and none of
them seemed to have anything to do with -- and my family was not talking
about what was going on because it was so bad. And one day Steve and I
were sitting out in the yard. And we kept hearing this meow, meow, over
and over. Finally John actually spotted this kitten up on top of the
Now on farms there are barn cats all over the place. They have babies.
They have whole lives, other children. They die. You never see them.
They're up in the haymow. They're wild. And apparently there was a nest
of them that were born clear up high in the haymow. And there was a
hole in the barn roof, and one of them crawled through that hole and got
up on the roof. He had distemper in his eyes so his eyes were matted
shut. He couldn't see.
So basically we just started filming this cat walking back and forth as
we're trying to figure out what's happening. I think the darkest day in
our filming careers probably was when -- we could tell this cat -- Jon
kept urging the cat to jump, like the lunatic John is, and it became
clear that this cat actually might jump, the way he was reaching down
toward John and stuff. So we decided we were going to reposition the
camera from John's view. And as we were moving the camera, the cat
jumped. And Steve turned back on and got just the very end of it.
But for all those people that think it's either a stunt cat or something
-- that we somehow set this up, it's really not the kind of thing you
can set up. I just wanted to say that.
STEVE ACSHER: And don't try this at home.