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for people who care about the West

The burning barrel

  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.


The Burning 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.





*Ed Marston