Reviews Short Documentary

The Skin on the Land (2021) – 3.5 stars

Directors: Guille Porcar & Raúl Lorite

Running time: 24 mins

A soul-cleansing half-hour bike ride north from the centre of Valencia, in eastern Spain, lies the Huertos Alboraia. It’s a complex of orchards and market gardening fields where Vicent Marti has been farming for 40 years. Marti is a staunch defender of traditional methods. He advocates seasonal cropping and companion planting and rails against agrichemicals. He apparently avoids most modern machinery.

Guille Porcar and Raúl Lorite’s eulogising documentary, The Skin on the Land, opens with a shot of a horse pulling a rudimentary plough. This seems to be about as far as mechanisation goes in Marti’s world. Like most of the outdoor shots, this introductory tableau is beautifully framed, using a low camera position to emphasise both the dramatic skies and a sense of connection to the soil. The sound recording, capturing the granular scrape of the ploughshare through the earth, also adds impact.

It’s perhaps a shame then that there isn’t more of this artful, evocative and eloquent material throughout the film. Instead, the balance tips slightly towards talking heads. Marti unfurls his seat-of-the-pants wisdom with such languid gusto that I suspect we’re seeing merely a tithe of what he offered the film makers.

Much of what he has to say is important and worthy of documentation – voices such as his are rare and valuable in the overwhelmingly industrialised world of agriculture. But he risks falling into the grumpy old man stereotype when, having praised youth climate protestors for the “brutal joy” of their demonstration (magnificent), he then bemoans the fact that some of them were wearing hair gel. Oh well. Also, we really don’t need another person in a documentary explaining, as if it were a closely guarded secret, that their mother had shown them how to hear the sea by holding a shell to their ear.

A much-needed second perspective comes from Laia Climent, who works in the shop but describes herself as having been “very much a city person”, with a background in various office jobs. She performs an important role in communicating the challenges created by a farming style driven by natural timescales and seasons that sits in contrast to the ‘everything, all of the time’ demands of modern capitalism.

The Skin on the Land is an engaging and useful piece. Sadly, there could come a time when the Huertos Alboraia is as much of a distant memory as the coastal dune systems of Marti’s childhood, since obliterated by a seafront highway and the marina and resort of Port Saplaya. Hopefully that won’t happen and Marti’s vision of a style of farming rooted in social integrity and respect for nature will endure and even become more popular.

Either way, this film is doing a decent job of documenting the situation as it as right now. A little more showing and a little less telling [something Raúl Lorite clearly knows how to deliver, judging by his other exceptional submission to IFL, Fuggirò Tanto Amore] and it would truly be a feast.

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