The Burning Barrel is worth watching for its prairie
shots and for the home movies of filmmaker Tim Schwab's childhood
that will make you nostalgic even though it's not your childhood.
An old oil drum that was used to burn his family's garbage is the
metaphor for wastefulness that narrator Schwab (he made the film
with spouse Christina Craton) tells us has given South Dakota fewer
people and farms and less prairie and wildlife, "slowly leaving us
alone here with all of our wonderful things." It's a soft film.
Schwab's father and brother have survived farming's shakeout and
Schwab is glad they got big rather than got out. But he hates
agribusiness. Schwab seems to see the masters of thousands of acres
and huge machines as cogs doing the will of a society that uses
television commercials to corrupt rural folk. As if America needed
television. The film was shot not far from Sauk Center, Minn.,
where novelist Sinclair Lewis grew up early in the century,
observing lives he would turn into the essence of materialism and
boosterism in Babbitt and Main Street. The 1930s simply reset the
clock, allowing Schwab's grandparents to lead heroic Dust
Bowl-Great Depression lives on their small farm, then letting his
father and brother grow big and prosperous. The film's blame of a
corrupt society is a little too easy.
Barrel is being marketed to public television stations to coincide
with Earth Day. For information, contact Nancy Robinson or Lois
Vossen at Independent Television Service in Saint Paul, Minn.:
612/225-9035, ext. 224.