Risking everything

By Morgan Schmidt-Feng (edited by Nicholas Carter)

As a documentary filmmaker, I set out more than four years ago with the intention of documenting the everyday difficulties of maintaining a family farm. However in 2009-10, two of the documentary’s main subjects, Barbara and Anthony Prebilich, passed away suddenly leaving the family with a new reality and me with a new story. Gleason Ranch: Risking Everything is a documentary film-in-the-making that tells the story of two sisters struggling to hold onto their 5th-generation family ranch after the sudden death of their parents.

We all know that family farmland is being lost every day as developers are buying out small farmers that can’t survive such harsh economic conditions and competition. But this land is also being lost as a result of younger generations deciding against taking over the farm after their parents pass. The question of, “who is going to take care of this land after we’re gone?” is a serious one for family farms all across the country.

Nancy Prebilich and her sister Cindy challenged this trend. After the death of their parents in 2009-10, they dedicated themselves to maintaining the land and continuing their family’s legacy. Fortunately, I was there to document this process and see the development, the consequences, and the sheer struggle involved with such a massive family endeavor.

This family has taught me a lot throughout the years. First and foremost, farming is incredibly hard work; it’s emotionally taxing and disaster can strike at any moment. And while farming is hard work, so is keeping a family together under the tremendous pressure of such heavy loss and difficult circumstances. There's risk at every turn, which was a huge eye-opener for me. It’s been nothing short of inspiring to see the sacrifices they’ve been willing to make to keep their land and provide for their community.

When I first began this project, I was looking for a sense of the overall experience of working on a family farm. As time passed, this film has become something much bigger and much more personal. The Gleason’s story has moved me dearly and I’d love to share it with you.

Learn more about the film and see  a clip at gleasonranchfilm.com.

Morgan Schmidt-Feng is an Emmy-winning director with over two decades of creative production experience on documentaries, television, and independent feature films. He won the 2011 regional Emmy® for Best Documentary for The Next Frontier, a feature length television documentary on solutions for climate change. His feature films and documentaries have screened at numerous film festivals in the U.S. and abroad, such as Sundance, New Directors/New Films NY, the Berlin International Film Festival, and the Mill Valley Film Festival. Morgan holds a degree in Film/Video and Performance from the California College of Art.

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