The film centers on the challenges vineyard managers and owners face - getting in the grapes, getting the most out of their crop, and getting the work done for not too much money. The other half of the film focuses on the pickers - mostly Mexicans from Michoacan - including an all female crew who are the best crew for doing the most careful work (cleaning off the inferior grapes from the clusters) compared to the fast-moving men.
The men race through the fields, slashing grapes, getting paid by the box. The women get an hourly rate.
Several sequences cover the stories of the women's lives today. They openly share their border journeys and their happiness at having a job during harvest.
Both men and women make the bulk of their annual income from the pick, according to the film.
We also see the growers' challenges, and the different ways they approach the harvest.
Two young beautiful women owners, Vanessa Robledo and operation director Stacy Rafanelli, both from winery families, share their perspectives on the harvest - and we watch as Stacy loses one vineyard's yields to botrytis.
There's drama as well for grower Wayne Rogers who at first doesn't believe his daughter when she calls to tell him there are 20+ wild pigs in his vineyard. He ends up losing 80% of his crop to them.
Foppiano, a bald man with a burly beard, rarely seen without a Giants hat, represents the industrial approach to harvesting, using his mechanical harvester in the middle of the night with his small crew. You see how the grapes are jiggled off the vine; it hardly seems like these could make good wine after so much jarring.
Mexican-born winery owner Reynaldo Robledo uses them, too, saying they save him the work of 100 men.
Some sequences show the brilliant night time picking lighting that looks like a UFO landing while other shots show unsafe conditions with pickers working in near darkness.
Comic relief comes in the form of Sonoma Grape Camp tourists, middle aged Americans, who pay the Sonoma County Grape Commission $3,700 a couple to come and pick grapes. See more in their romantic promo video.
We also see happy moments of harvest at the Robledo winery, owned and run by a Mexican-American family (where the patriarch was a picker), celebrating with mariachi singing and Aztec dancers, a welcome contrast to the pseudo French/European veneer so many wineries put on today.
Organic vineyards featured in the film include (briefly) Medlock Ames and Porter Bass. I was happy to see the latter, one of the most beautiful vineyards I've seen, but hardly recognized it in the rain.
Last night's screening also offered the treat of a Q and A with John Beck, filmmaker and a great local audience familiar with many of the issues in the film who brought up issues around injured workers and the hopes of many of the workers for a better life for them and for their children. This counteracts the vineyard manager who says, early on in the film, that this is a great job for the workers - all they want.
Beck says the film has been picked up by an LA-based distributor (who also distributed the documentary Word Wars) who has succeeded in getting the local theatrical run. The film will continue to be screened on the festival circuit. Beck hopes he will be able to get a PBS broadcast. He will be cutting the film down from 72 minutes to 54.
He's now working on a new documentary with a Trappist monastery north of Chico which raises grapes and is making wine.
You can hear two audio clips with the filmmaker on the Harvest film from radio station KCRB here.
And don't miss the Bohemian's front page article about the film, although it's somewhat off balance (since the film is about more than the migrant workers).
Here's the list of upcoming local screenings - try to see this here. It may be a long time until there are other opportunities:
Sept. 14 – 20 at Rialto Cinemas, Sebastopol - Director John Beck will be doing Q&A after 7 p.m. screenings on Sept. 14, 15 and 16.
Sept. 21, 22 and 23 – Sonoma Cinemas, Director Q&A’s after Sept. 21 and 23 screenings.
Sept. 28 – Oct. 4 – Raven Film Center, 415 Centre St., Director Q&A’s after Sept. 28 and 29 screenings
The film web site is here.