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Down (and Out) on the Farm

Right now, you don't know Darrel and Juanita Buschkoetter, a young Nebraska farming couple with three daughters. But soon, you'll have the opportunity.

Over three nights (and six and a half hours), PBS will offer the Buschkoetters' lives for public inspection. The Farmer's Wife, director David Sutherland's absorbing documentary, will place the Buschkoetters' workaday triumphs and tragedies in the national spotlight.

"I wanted to know who the young farmers of today were; I wanted to put a face on these people who are trying to survive," says Sutherland (who prefers the title "portraitist"). He investigated scores of couples as potential subjects before finding the Buschkoetters and knowing instantly they were the ones.

Sutherland's film follows the family through a series of seemingly endless conflicts -- with their crop, creditors, government and each other. The director filmed them over a period of three years, amassing over 200 hours of footage, but never knowing from one day to the next how their story would turn out. One afternoon might start with a bad crop report and segue into Darrel's troubled relationship with his father to Juanita's having to take a job cleaning houses in town to help support the family (which in 1995 had to make do with $20 a month for groceries). Though planned as a much shorter project, the footage begged for additional screen time, and only two weeks before its air date, Sutherland was still editing segments.

In the documentary, Juanita gradually emerges as the story's driving force and the family's glue. "I never planned to make her the focal point," says Sutherland, "but she became the one who had to be the family's financial planner and work while going to school and having a [family] life. She's the one who had to deal with the outside world, because by the end of the day, Darrel was simply too tired."

-- Bob Ruggiero

The Farmer's Wife runs on Channel 8, KUHT, for three consecutive nights: Monday, September 21, 911 p.m.; Tuesday, September 22, 911 p.m.; and Wednesday, September 23, 911:30 p.m.


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