Sue Arbuthnot, Richard Wilhelm and Hare in the Gate Productions


Dryland: "Ruben and Josh" from drafthorse journal on Vimeo.

Filmed over a decade and set in the American West, Dryland traces a young man’s quest for victory in a rambunctious contest, while battling to preserve a threatened way of life. Josh Knodel and best friend Matt Miller strive to win the Lind Combine Demolition Derby, save their town, and preserve the legacy of their families’ Eastern Washington wheat farms.

The derby supports Lind through dry years and economic uncertainty. The tiny town of 500 swells to 5,000 for one day each year and, with barn-raising community spirit, funds critical local services. Paradoxically, as agricultural technology advances, promoting more efficient production, the need for labor decreases and fewer young farmers can stay on the land. Higher costs force farms to consolidate or grow, and many family farms and the rural towns depending on them simply disappear.

Galvanizing optimism, strategy, and elbow grease, Josh and Matt rebuild JAWS each year to vie for the derby title. They complete high school, then college, preparing to farm. But even as Josh leads JAWS to victory, he’s defeated in his lifelong passion to harvest the fields his great-grandfather first tilled, and he is forced to leave the farm to find a job.

Dryland: "Matt's Derby" from drafthorse journal on Vimeo.

Dryland is a meditation on the changing landscape of rural communities filling an important niche in the conversation around what Farm Aid calls the "Good food movement." With a worldwide groundswell in learning where our food comes from and an exciting trend in urban farming, Dryland offers an authentic story about living on the land.

In this visceral, cinematic duet of hard work and harder play, Josh, Matt, and their community unite to propel the legacy of the American family farm. Bittersweet and exuberant, Dryland ultimately champions hope, fueled by ingenuity, heart, and axle grease.

Dryland: "Clair de Lune" from drafthorse journal on Vimeo.

Directors’ Statement

Both Sue and Richard draw inspiration from rural life—often seen in our work as a contrast between natural cycles and the cadences of human industry. Sue’s forebears on both sides of her family engaged in agriculture through the early 1930s, leaving the land in Wisconsin and Appalachian Kentucky for town life during the Depression. But fortunately her grandfather’s dairy in Janesville maintained the trade. Sue’s affinity for agriculture emerged when her dad took her to farms along the bulk route, hauling milk back to the plant for processing. Richard’s family lived outside Louisville, Kentucky in a ranging woodland where he spent long days exploring natural forms with his turtle-catching dog Red. His mother knew to whistle to Red at day’s end, in order to finally retrieve Richard for supper.

Sue and Richard take joy in producing images and sharing stories pertaining to rural America. Daily and seasonal rhythms on the land and the exceptional work ethic of small-scale agrarians are deeply internalized in our perspectives and aesthetic. Our work portrays miners, ranchers, homesteaders, Native American artists, advocates for salmon restoration, among many other subjects—each film striving to capture the quality of human interaction with the natural world. Whether fashioning tools, harvesting, abrading a stone projectile point, or twining a traditional basket, the expression of knowledge, craft, and inherited memory of people tied to place greatly intrigues us as filmmakers.

In making Dryland, we became fascinated with the perseverance of farm families in an arid land, where increasing demands for technological advances and larger acreage confront economic and political uncertainties. But while the issues facing family farms are compelling, it’s the physical gesture of work on a human scale that imbues this and our other stories with a sensibility different from issue-oriented films. In Dryland, the physical work, whether in the fields or during the derby, exemplifies a complex, evolving relationship between human and machine, as well as that with nature. Sequences of the combine derby, entwined with farming scenes, epitomize the essential partnership of work and play very natural to farmers.

Main character Josh Knodel’s journey lies at the emotional heart of the film. Despite yearning all his life to stay on this fourth-generation farm, Josh must leave for a job with John Deere in Iowa, when his family is unable to purchase more land for him and his future family. At about the same time, Sue’s folks in Oregon determined they were unable to maintain a 110-acre farm her dad had reforested over the course of 35 years. This loss sharpened Sue and Richard’s empathy for all farmers facing difficult decisions relating to land and family legacy.

What’s not endangered, however, is the drive and remarkable adaptiveness of farmers to work responsibly and efficiently to provide food, live well on the land, and build communities that will keep small-scale farming viable. We now see a rapidly growing international movement, where young urban dwellers are returning to agriculture—from backyard garden beds to multi-acre operations, with food-to-table events and farmers markets everywhere. We’re heartened by this new adjunct to traditional agriculture, and we hope with Dryland to help nurture this urge, together ensuring that rural life, whether due to tending crops—or crashing combines—can indeed sustain the next generation on the land.




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SUE ARBUTHNOT           
Sue Arbuthnot is a filmmaker with an MFA in Film from Columbia University and a BFA in Sculpture from the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland. Sue founded Hare in the Gate Productions, LLC in 1991, and with partner Richard Wilhelm, they produce documentaries, multi-media interpretive exhibits, and photography. Their films have received grants from the Oregon Arts Commission, Regional Arts & Culture Council, and Oregon Council for the Humanities. A number of their productions have aired on PBS and have screened internationally. Sue received a Pacific Pioneer Fund grant in 1992 and Oregon Media Arts Fellowship in 2010. She teaches at the Northwest Film Center in Portland and is a founding member and Board Member of the Portland Chapter of Women in Film.

Richard Wilhelm earned his BFA and MFA in Visual Design and Photography from the University of Oregon, and then established a design studio in Seattle, which he directed for 14 years. Richard’s photography has been exhibited in galleries and collections throughout the United States. He taught photography at UO and Elderhostel, and conducted 50 photographic workshops. Richard’s recent work includes several permanent multi-media interpretive exhibits in Portland. In addition to producing films for Hare in the Gate Productions, Richard, along with Sue and two other partners, created InfinityBox Press, LLC, publishing new and re-released fiction of his mother, renowned author Kate Wilhelm, as well as republishing the works of his late stepfather Damon Knight, celebrated both as a science fiction author and editor.

Find out more about Hare in the Gate Productions at