Q: Please explain your inspiration and point of view when you first started developing and collaborating on COMFORT FARMS, and why you made this film. How or what prompted the idea for your film and how did it evolve?
A: It’s important to note that the film is much bigger than a story about the day in and day out of Comfort Farms itself or any one person. And if you go into it thinking that way it’s not going to be the film you hoped to see. Not to say that the farm and Jon don’t play a large role in the film, but there’s much more to it than just that. There are a lot of films out there about Veterans’ struggles and PTSD. I saw no reason to make another one. After meeting and talking to Jon (the founder) I quickly found his approach to the subject a bit different. For one he talked a lot about not letting these post war traumas define him or his fellow Vets. And as things went on I saw potential for something more than an educational/information piece. It really started to evolve when I noticed there were a lot of the elements of the traditional literary drama in place. There was irony, and an interesting, diverse and unique cast of characters. There were tons of great questions being asked with respect to the nature of life, death, love and sacrifice. There was potential for something different here than a film about the struggling Veteran. Not that that’s not important. But there are so many of those out there I couldn’t imagine adding anything new to the topic. I found an interesting angle and ended up using several characters and topics that share certain things in common to draw out a kind of portrait of this little slice of life. At first it may seem these things are not related, but I think the audience will quickly catch on and realize they are all related—that the film juxtaposes these characters and topics to tell a story between the lines.
Q: What inspired you to become a filmmaker? Please explain your history in filmmaking.
A: I’ve been involved in the arts one way or another for my entire adult life. I’m a painter and professional photographer. My college degrees were in English and Theatre. I was a founding member of a theatre company. But I always carried around with me this thought that film would be the most satisfying medium for me. I started making shorts and went down the same road a lot of filmmakers do. I got into creating commercial content to keep my hands busy while trying to develop stories. I’d always focused on narrative film not so much documentary. That’s the short of it I guess.
Q: What would you like the audience to ‘take away’ after they have seen the film?
A: An added bit of insight into the human condition.
Q: What is your relationship to the subjects of this film and how was it working with them?
A: I had no relationship with any of the subjects before making the film. They were extremely generous with their time and their personal stories. I was surprised how diverse the community was. I don’t mean just ethnically but socially, politically, etc. And they were really fun and easy to be around. Very genuine, intelligent, empathic, motivated people.
Q: Where did you shoot the film and how did you find your location(s)?
A: I shot the film on location in Milledgeville, GA at Comfort Farms.
Q: When did you meet your collaborator(s)? How did those partnerships come about?
A: With respect to featured cast I was asked to take photos for a cooking publication at Comfort Farms. I went down and met Jon. From there things just kind of played out.
Q: What was your biggest challenge with making this movie, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you, where you knew you had something.
A: I took a unique and unorthodox approach to making the film. I didn’t want to make an educational or information film. I wanted to really document the nature of the place and all of the ironies that surround it. But there’s no way around the fact that Veteran suicide and other traumas are issues that have to be addressed. But how do you do that without giving people the impression the film’s just another PTSD piece, or a film only about the workings of Comfort Farms, or another film bringing awareness to the plight of the suffering Vet. (Not to be flippant about the issue by any stretch). How do you make an audience immediately aware that the film is broader then that. It’s really a film about all of us. Being in the military, especially in combat, really kind of puts our human nature under a microscope. Also, I’d never seen an animal slaughtered before. That was kind of intimidating at first. And it brought me to question what footage should be left out. Some of it’s graphic and I new it would alienate some audiences. And when did I know I had something? I knew I had something when I realized the whole thing was really a love story. And by love I mean by way of sacrifice.
Q: What made this project come together and be successful?
A: The characters. The juxtaposition between two seemingly unrelated topics.
Q: Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film, including your influences (if any).
A: Again I wanted to do something different than an educational piece on the workings of Comfort Farms. And I took some creative risks for sure. I wanted to capture the essence and intensity of Comfort Farms and the stories around those I met there. I chose to shoot the interviews with wider lenses than would typically be used to shoot traditional interviews. I put the camera right in the subject’s space and close up. And I stuck to one angle. I knew from the get go I was alienating some audiences by doing this. It’s intense and imposing. And some will say distracting. But the film has a lot to do with discomfort and I wanted to add some of that into the style of the film without taking it too far. Some will say I did take it too far. Something similar can be said about how I chose to structure the film and some of my editing choices. I used a lot of jump cuts and random shaky camera shots to create what I see as a kind of expressionist take on what I was seeing and feeling at the farm. With respect to the narrative, the way I put it together, some will say it meanders around from unrelated thing to unrelated thing. But it’s all related. Each of those things juxtapose one another to create a story between the lines. Some of the interviews are long winded. For example, the interviews with Forrest Giles may seem to ramble on and on for no reason. But that’s Forrest Giles and I wanted people to see Forrest Giles. That’s part of the nature of documenting Forrest Giles. Plus being a veteran of some of the most bloody fighting in WW2 I felt he deserved the time. All of this stuff was intentional.
Q: What was your most memorable experience about shooting COMFORT FARMS?
A: I’d never seen what was on my plate, walking around before it got there. That opened my eyes a little.
Q: How do you think COMFORT FARMS fits into your personal growth as a filmmaker?
A: I hadn’t really considered a feature documentary. In fact I’ve only made or written narrative fiction. There was growth for me in doing a documentary.
Q: Share something unique about the film. It can be related to the subject, the Title, the making of the film, the vision behind the film, casting, location, script, etc.
A: The title Comfort Farms comes from the name of the farm which is named after Capt. Kyle Comfort who died while fighting in Afghanistan. And it’s located in Milledgeville, GA just down the road from Andalusia, the farm were the great Southern Gothic writer Flannery O’Connor lived when she wrote some of her most iconic stuff.
Q: What are some of your favorite films, and what are your other creative influences?
A: There are really too many to name. And most of them are probably not even recognized above the subconscious. But because I mentioned Flannery O’Connor above I’ll mention her again here. I’m a huge fan. What comes to mind now are Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, classical art and Gerhard Richter for some reason. Ambient tones. The D, G, Em, C chord progression, philosophy. Favorite films? Oh my. I don’t know.
Q: Future projects in the pipeline? Tell us!
A: Yes! We’re having our third baby! But besides that, I’m always working on something. Narratives. I’m writing a couple of features. Or better put—I’m fighting the temptation to quit writing what, odds are, will never see its final form, that is, a movie. It’s hard. The not knowing. I’m also working on a few feature scripts that I know I can make happen myself.
Carlisle Kellam caught the art bug early, as a musician, a professional mural artist and a professional commercial and portrait photographer. Working as creative director for a small commercial production company, he wrote and directed a number of short narrative commercial pieces for brands like Hormel, McCormick, and Fit to Fight International. After graduating with a Theatre/English double major he went on to earn his masters in philosophy—both of which have had immeasurable influence on his approach to filmmaking. He helped found the Machine Theatre company, staging both avant-garde original and established works. He completed a number of short narrative and documentary films that screened at various festivals around the country. His last film, A Slice of Life: Mr Snulligan, a short documentary about a blind African American chef, took home best short documentary at the Gwinnett center international film fest.