Filmmaker Doug Pray Interviews Local Citizens
In 2015 during the Bayfield County Board's moratorium on CAFO siting in the county, which led to passage of an Operations Ordinance and Manure Storage Ordinance, Los Angeles filmmaker Doug Pray, who has family roots in the area, interviewed local residents and created the film shorts below.
Doug Pray Shares His Thoughts on Bayfield, Lake Superior, Storytelling and Factory Farms
Los Angeles documentary film director Doug Pray grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. His father, Lloyd Pray, was raised in Ashland. In 1903, Doug’s grandfather, Allan T. Pray, arrived in Ashland with his wife, Helen Palmer Pray, and formed a law firm that became Pray, Pray, & Clark (with his son Theron Pray). Doug and his three brothers and families have been visiting the family’s cottage on the Lake near Cornucopia his entire life.
Doug’s feature films include “Surfwise,” a portrait of the nomadic, 11-member Doc Paskowitz surfing family; “Big Rig,” a documentary about independent truck drivers; “Infamy,” about graffiti writers; “Scratch,” a celebration of hip-hop DJ culture; and his first documentary, “Hype!,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1996, and told the story about the explosion of the Seattle rock scene of the early ‘90s. His most recent films are “Levitated Mass,” about Michael Heizer’s massive land-art sculpture at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Emmy Award-winning film, “Art & Copy,” about advertising and creativity.
Farms Not Factories recently spoke with Doug about the short films he’s been making about the proposed CAFO in our area:
How did you get involved with Farms Not Factories?
Demaris Brinton, who is my cousin Theron O’Connor’s wife, reached out to me a year ago, explained what a CAFO was and how it might threaten the area. I immediately knew I wanted to help out. Although I’ve lived in California for many years to pursue my career, Bayfield County is near and dear to my heart and highly worth protecting, even from afar.
You’ve been interviewing others about their thoughts on the CAFO issue. What do you think?
Like a lot of people, I’d become aware of sustainability issues and healthier eating in the last few years, but when I learned about what was actually happening in Kewaunee County and everywhere CAFOs are operating, I was moved into taking action. Environmental destruction is one thing— it’s hard not to be opposed to that (unless you’re making millions off it), but I’m also amazed that anyone can justify penning animals in a coffin-like environment for their entire life. That any creature might never see the sun so that we (and China) can overeat cheap meat is insane. I’m not opposed to eating meat, or large businesses, but it’s become obvious that meat from CAFOs tastes bad and is unhealthy. It’s raised by amoral and cruel methods. And it’s proven to be terrible for the environment. It’s a practice that is leading to a world that nobody wants to live in. Why allow it?
Have you done cause-oriented work like this before?
For about 20 years, I have been making feature documentaries about American subcultures and maverick characters. My work isn’t overtly political, but I have done nonfiction-style commercials and advocacy campaigns for various issues such as AIDS awareness, anti-smoking, and disability rights. My approach is more about letting my subjects speak for themselves in their own words. I like letting viewers draw their own conclusions about a particular issue because sometimes I think it’s more effective than hitting people over the head with a loud message, even if it’s agreeable.
How did you decide to do portrait films for Farms Not Factories?
After Demaris introduced me to Farms Not Factories’ Mary Dougherty, she and I talked about what might be the most effective media approach. It was obvious that there were strong opinions in the area, and we wanted to hear different voices in the community who had different concerns—businesspeople, politicians, homeowners, and, of course, local farmers. Mary introduced me to a handful of people in the area. I spoke to them by phone from California, and finally met them last October when we came to film.
How did the filming go?
My cinematographer Edwin Stevens, my wife Diana Pray, and I came to northern Wisconsin in October and filmed 8 interviews in 3 days. I also visited Iowa last summer (which is like “CAFO Central”) and interviewed a farmer who lives adjacent to other CAFOs owned by Reicks View Farms (the corporation proposing to move in). I’ll be editing together his portrait soon, along with several others that are still in-progress. I may bring this together into a short film this summer.
What’s your experience been?
I love visiting Lake Superior when I’m on vacation, and it’s great to just hang out with our family and relax, but the downside of vacation places is that you rarely interact with the people who actually live in the community. Getting to meet everyone from the mayor of Ashland to the O’Dovero family farmers, has brought the region to life for me in a profound way. For the first time, I feel personally connected to where my family comes from, not just historically. It’s been great. I’ve learned so much about sustainable farming, respectable meat-raising, and, once again, just how incredibly precious Lake Superior is.
WPR Interview with Doug Pray
When the first three film shorts were posted to Facebook by Farms Not Factories in January 2016, Wisconsin Public Radio interviewed Doug. Click here to open a recording of that interview in a new tab — definitely worth listening to!