With the exception of anyone who’s spent the past few years in a high-fructose corn syrup-induced coma, we’ve all heard about the woes of the American food system. Books such as “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and films such as “Food, Inc.” have educated wide swaths of our country’s citizens about the perils of corporate agriculture. And while this bodes well for the prospect of reform, it makes the job of programming the annual Food + Farm event at Space Gallery in Portland more difficult.

Now entering its third year, the popular film festival and local food celebration kicks off Thursday and runs through Sunday. It will showcase four feature-length documentaries, screen four Maine-produced shorts and offer a chance to get your hands dirty on an urban farm. But don’t expect to see films that rehash the big-picture problems with our industrial food system.

“After a while, the films start to tread the same territory,” said organizer Jon Courtney in describing the food documentary genre. “A lot of these ideas are leaking out of the niche farmers-market crowd and into the general public. So we wanted to go down the tributaries more than staying mainstream.”

The series kicks off Thursday with a screening of “Dirt! The Movie.” This film explores the soil under our feet and how the destiny of humans is tied to its fertility (or lack thereof). William Logan, author of the book on which the film is based, will speak, take questions and sign books after the screening.

On Friday night, the film “Ingredients” examines the farm-to-table movement across the country and profiles chefs and farmers who are creating a sustainable food system. Following the film, Guy Hernandez of Bar Lola will talk about how he uses local food in his Munjoy Hill restaurant.

Saturday morning provides a chance to get some hands-on agriculture experience at the Boyd Street Urban Farm in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood. People of all ages can help with chores on Cultivating Community’s farm, which grows vegetables and fruit trees for low-income families.

That evening, the film “Colony” screens, offering insight into the colony collapse disorder that is killing honeybees across the country. After the show, Erin MacGregor-Forbes, president of the Maine Beekeepers Association and operator of Overland Apiaries, will speak and take questions.

Sunday night, the festival wraps up with the screening of “The End of the Line.” This film examines worldwide overfishing, an issue that hits close to home here in Maine. Representatives from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute will be on hand to talk about what this means locally, and answer questions.

Each screening begins with a sneak preview of a short film produced by North Haven-based Pull-Start Pictures in conjunction with the Maine Farmland Trust. During the past year, the film company created eight films capturing a day in the life on farms across Maine. Four of the films will be shown during Food + Farm with the official premiere for the entire series taking place June 25 at The Strand in Rockland.

“Whatever stage the farms were at, we tried to capture that,” said filmmaker Jason Mann, who produced the work with Cecily Pingree. “The films don’t try to provide a complete story about these farms. It’s just a snapshot of the day.”

The four films chosen for the festival profile a vegetable farm in Scarborough, a potato farm in Hamlin, an apple orchard in Manchester and a dairy farm in Windsor.

Mann said each of these Maine farms confronts different issues and challenges, but one central theme that emerged during the filming is the need for all farmers to find ways to create value-added products and diversify their offerings.

As Mann said, “Farmers have to be extremely creative to stay in business.”

 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: akamila@pressherald.com