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Sarah Derris ’21: Nostalgia and the Countryside

Project Date:
Project Date: Summer 2021

A documentary that uncovers a prevailing nostalgia for the countryside, specifically in the American West, as the rural landscape undergoes rapid transformation by urbanization, climate change, and development.

About the Project

America’s rural communities, remote lands and wildland territories — “the countryside” to urban inhabitants — are undergoing rapid transformation. New technologies, farming practices, climate change, and the ever-encroaching inevitability of urbanization means far-reaching and perhaps unwelcome change for rural dwellers. The resulting nostalgic fixation with the countryside, according to Boym, is related to a desire to access again some perceived comfort or plenitude the countryside once represented.

In Nostalgia and the Countryside, I journeyed to the countryside to confront this lost imaginary at its root; I sought out nostalgia, with all its false promises, to examine whether there really lies a possibility for a new reality in this landscape. I first look to farms that specialize in sustainable methods. There I ask the urgent questions: What emotions or recollections does the reshaping rural landscape evoke for its inhabitants? How do the routine cycles of work, leisure, and community appear different?

Nostalgia and the Countryside can be characterized as part-travelogue and part-experimental documentary that follows my own journey from the darkness of the city to the light of the countryside. During the summer post-graduation, I traveled across the U.S. for volunteer work on three different organic farms. The journey also represents the allegorical move from darkness to light, seeking to grasp at some truth or meaning about our present reality and serves as a document for this period of transformation of the rural landscape.

Reflecting on Arts Amidst COVID-19

The Benenson Award in the Arts provided me the support to pursue a project on a larger scale, much larger than any project I have previously completed. This project will be a major addition to my body of work, and will showcase my capacity for thoughtful process and experimentation in documentary fieldwork.