Film Project On Family Farm Earns 'Prodigal Son' Status For Kansas City Performer
They say you can’t go home again. But what if you bring drones, quilts and a marching band?
On a warm, sunny Saturday last October, David Wayne Reed was in a machine shed on his family’s farm near Louisburg, Kansas, giving instructions to about 60 people who were helping him film his movie “Eternal Harvest.” Reed had gathered friends, family members and the Louisburg High School Marching Band. He’d had asked the band to leave their instruments at home and wear a specific type of clothing.
“Thank you for all wearing plaid!” he said. “Man, it feels like 1991 and everybody’s in grunge again – I love it!”
That’s appropriate, because Reed graduated from Louisburg High School in 1990. Now, almost three decades later, he’s asked his former band director, John Cisetti, who he still calls “Mr. Cisetti,” for help.
In addition to delivering the music-less marching band, Cisetti brought one of two drones that will be used in the filming.
“Eternal Harvest” was conceived as a performance installation series and short film about the cycle of life, shown through the landscape of the Reed family farm. The drones will shoot that landscape from on high, capturing the circles created by center-pivot irrigation, the long straight brown lines of country roads, the green square acres of corn and soybeans.
Those circles and squares will also appear up close, stitched into the heirloom quilts Reed inherited from his grandmother. It’s the marchers’ job to hold up these quilts, opening and closing them to create a kaleidoscope effect from above.
Reed moves his film crew out to the middle of a hay field, where a circle has been mowed into the grass, outlined with pumpkins, and six antique tractors parked in the center. From the drones flying above, it looks like a flower.
Mr. Cisetti choreographs the band members, who he has placed around the circle in teams of four, directing from a bullhorn.
“You guys listen to this: open, two, three, four. Close, two three four,” he says, directing a weird waltz as the teams move apart to “open” the quilt and walk together to “close” it.
In addition to the landscape, the project was inspired by Reed’s study of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and the effect is a Midwestern mandala.
“I wanted to trace the lifecycle,” Reed said later. “So, using kind of Eastern philosophies and themes, I chose a mandala, which is a Hindu or Buddhist representation of cycle of life.”
Reed’s ancestors were among Louisburg’s founding families. They built the first grain elevator, and their headstones are in the center of the town cemetery. He is the seventh generation to grow up on the farm.
“Eternal Harvest” was also inspired by a conversation Reed had with his father, George, a long time ago. Reed asked his dad if reincarnation was possible. His father replied that it might be.
“He offered the example of a volunteer crop of wheat or a perennial plant as seeming evidence for reincarnation,” Reed said. “Life is perpetual. It continues even after the harvest.”
Reed is returning to the farm after leaving years ago and making a name for himself in Kansas City as an actor. He was a founding member of Late Night Theatre, a drag-themed performance company. He also wrote and directed “Mother Trucker,” a 2004 “parody of the trucker movie adventures of yore,” as he wrote on his blog.
For “Eternal Harvest,” he won funding with a Rocket Grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts, along with the Charlotte Street Foundation, and the Spencer Museum of Art, along with nearly $7,000 he raised on his own.
“This is like my prodigal son project,” he said. “The idea of the prodigal son goes off and lives a wild life and then returns to the farm not to his father’s shame, but to his father’s welcome and pride.”
This summer, “Eternal Harvest” is part of the official line-up for Louisburg’s 150th anniversary celebration: projected onto the side of a building in town and broadcast over a local radio station, for a drive-in theater effect.
It's as if Mr. Cisetti’s old student, David Wayne Reed, is completing his own circle of life.
“Eternal Harvest” debuts at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 12, on the Reed family farm, part of the Miami County Farm Tour. For more information on “Eternal Harvest,” go to the Facebook page.
Peggy Lowe is a reporter at KCUR and Harvest Public Media and can be found on Twitter @peggyllowe.