Behind the scenes with THE SELL OF MONEY filmmakers at the Sarasota Film Festival

“The Smell of Money” made its world premiere this week at the 2022 Sarasota Film Festival. This feature-length documentary tells the story of a group of North Carolina locals in the midst of a battle against farms pigs that pollute their communities. Featuring first-hand accounts of what it’s like to fight one of the most powerful corporations in the world, to be denied clean air and water, and the human impact of greed , “The Smell of Money” gives a crucial voice to a community that the pork industry has long tried to silence.

How did you identify and connect with the subjects of the documentary?

Jamie Berger (writer, producer):

Elsie was a clear choice as the focus of the film because she has been a spokesperson for this issue for so long; she was one of the most outspoken and courageous people who were willing to speak out against the industry. We connected with her pretty early on and immediately felt she had such a model story and a compelling way to tell it as well. And then Water Guardians Rick Dove and Larry Baldwin were also very outspoken and had been active on this issue for so long that they were really kind of our connectors to the rest of the community. So once we met them, they introduced us to a number of other people.

Shawn Bannon (producer director):

The first year was really exciting. We met Don Webb on one of our first trips and met Larry on one of our first trips and we just knew we could do something. The hurricane happened during our first year of filming. We’re like, whoa, this is crazy. There is a hurricane. Wow, that’s just wild. We almost thought we had a documentary at the time, which we definitely didn’t. Then Don Webb passed away, so we kept filming.

For the first two years it was just Jamie and myself. And then probably two years later, Kate Mara, Michelle came along, that was about halfway through the project. David Lowry had been involved from the start as an executive producer. I had worked with him in the past, so he was kind of always there so that we had someone to talk to, to lean on while we, you know, were going through the idea process.

BWW Interview: Behind the scenes with THE SELL OF MONEY filmmakers at the Sarasota Film Festival

What were the challenges and milestones that stood out throughout your four-year cinematic journey?

Shaw:

After Elsie died, I would say the whole production sort of fell apart.

We just felt like we couldn’t go on. And that’s where Jenn came in. Jenn and Jason were our editing team, and Jenn also became a producer. We simply couldn’t have finished the film without it. Yeah. We were really lucky to have everyone who worked on it, we couldn’t have made the film without them. Every person was so crucial.

After that, the lawsuit was the biggest problem. Like, it was endless, and we didn’t know how to put it in the movie because it didn’t end. And even though it had been going on for seven years at the time, we kept thinking, oh, it’s going to end soon. And we didn’t know, can we make a documentary without this trial being over? We only got a small glimpse of what this community had been through, because this is their life.

We never really knew when we got the documentary [completed], honestly, until January. We submitted it to the Sarasota Film Festival in November and had a pretty good rough edit, but we knew we still had issues and were still working on the edit. We informed Sarasota that we had a new version that we were very happy with, if they looked at it. And that’s the version that got into Sarasota and Hot Docs. So we’re like, yes it works!

Something that I felt was extremely powerful was the emphasis on the experiences of the subjects rather than an overabundance of statistics and scientific explanations of the issues explored by the film. What was the motivation behind this choice?

Shaw:

When we screened it for the subjects of the film, they were all very excited about it. We were quite surprised, thinking they would say “you really didn’t do my story justice, you missed this or that part”, but it was overwhelmingly positive. The people in our test audiences weren’t. It was exhausting. I would say they helped us make this movie better, but there was a specific type of person who was really offended by that, really taken aback, and really annoyed – it really got under their skin. It alerted us to love, oh how educational versus personal? And that’s honestly where our editor Jason came in. He said to get to the heart of the matter and not just focus on statistics. And a lot of people have really tried to get us to like statistics. But that’s where we didn’t go.

Jenn Murphy (associate producer, assistant editor):

We’ve been, you know, talking about the movie a little bit more the last few days and a big chunk is: these people have been telling this story for years and they just need people to believe them. So I like the fact that we brought up the statistics and the factual content of the movie because it’s like, no, we just believe them. Their stories. We don’t need similar additional facts to validate their experiences. Their story is the truth, and they’ve been telling it for 20 years. They just need people to listen to them, you know, and hear them. It’s an element that I realize is really powerful for me.

For more information on the film, visit: https://www.smellofmoneydoc.com/

“The Smell of Money” is available online through the Sarasota Film Festival from April 1-10, tickets can be found here: https://www.sarasotafilmfestival.com/event/the-smell-of-money/. The Sarasota Film Festival continues this weekend, for tickets to more in-person and online screenings and events, visit: https://www.sarasotafilmfestival.com/.