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First-Time Filmmaker Follows Her Passion
Mara LeGrand Discusses Her Festival Entry, "Heart & Soil"

(CBS) Mara LeGrand has had many roles in her life: Ayurvedic practioner, health food store proprietor, photojournalist, poet, writer, mom.

She's worked on films before, adapting stories to script, writing eight original screenplays, and as a member of a documentary team of public health workers in Nepal, Tibet and China in 1985.

Recently she decided to pick up a camera and helm her first film as director, producer and writer. The result, a documentary about regional and local farming, earned a spot as an entry at the Santa Fe Film Festival.

"I didn't know which end of the video camera to use two years ago," she said at a Q&A after the film was screened at the festival. "I have some background in photojournalism but I hadn't done it in a long time. I had been writing and my brother goes to Africa - has been going for quite a few years - and he had this really fascinating project that I wanted to make a film about, so I bought a camera. And I thought, 'my gosh, I can't go to Africa with this camera if I don't know how to use it.'"

LeGrand picked a trial location close to her heart: the local farmer's market near her home in New Mexico.

"I love the farmer's market and have been part of organic food systems, and it seemed natural to go to the farmer's market every Saturday and learn to use my camera," she said.

Her visits to the market helped her learn to handle the camera, but she felt that the footage she shot was not compelling enough to make a film.

"Because I'm more of a poet and a storyteller I thought, 'but where's the story?' It's fine to go to the farmer's market but the story is behind the scenes," she said.

She started speaking with the farmers and asking if she could visit their farms. The result is her documentary, "Heart and Soil."

The film documents the lives of all sorts of farmers including a dreadlocked hippie who sees his work as a higher calling, an eccentric woman who adores her pet wild turkey but doesn't mind slaughtering its cousins for food, and a family who've been farming their bean fields for three generations.

Although she believes strongly in supporting local farmers, LeGrand said she tried not be too preachy in the film. She said that so far the feedback from audience members has been positive.

"Because it is not condemning, people don't feel like they've been hit over the head with it," she said. "It just kind of moves people gently into some of the issues. One of the stories I like to tell is that I went into the bean fields of third-generation farmers hoping that I was going to get a different perspective than I did from what one might call 'designer farmers.' I did not get a different story."

"Heart and Soil" has no narration, and LeGrand said it was her intent to have the film's subjects tell the story.

"It's the heart of the people who are really out there doing the work. They are coming to their perspective through their hands-on experience. They are the real teachers. People say they really love the authenticity of the people who are speaking," she said.

To find out more about the film, go to heartandsoilfilm.com.





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