An Oscar-nominated documentary released in 1995, "Troublesome Creek" is a haunting feature looking at a subject that's still happening just as often today. The film, directed by the husband/wife pairing of Jeanne Jordan and Steven Ascher, visits the farm of Jeanne's parents, Mary Jane and Russ. The family has been farming the same land since 1867, on the banks of Troublesome Creek.
Early in the film, we find that the family has fallen on hard times, and they're currently deeply in debt. As the days pass, it seems less likely that any loans will be approved. The local bank has just been bought out by a chain, and while they have had a good reputation with the loan officers that they've been familiar with for countless years, the new bank certainly doesn't take that into account.
With $200,000 in debt hanging over their heads, it's the family against the bank (the film's subtitle of "A Midwestern" is used to compare the struggle to one of Russ and Mary Jane's favorite activities, watching old Westerns), who don't look at the specific situation and instead assign the family a series of ratings and has classified their account as "troubled."
Eventually, the parents come up with a clever plan - they sell off literally everything (equipment, etc.) but the land itself. They make enough to keep the land, but the process is deeply saddening, as pieces that were thought to go for tons go for a fraction of what's expected. Still, they manage to get out from under the debt and make way for one of their sons to bring in his equipment to try work the land, while the parents move into a smaller place in town to semi-retire.
Although there is some definite hardship in the transition, the family tradition has been passed onto another generation. As for generations, Jordan has done a remarkable job shifting the story between documenting the current troubles and the family history, which is superbly detailed with involving stories and archive photos.
A heartbreaking tale with great characters and a lot of heart, "Troublesome Creek" is a saddening and inspiring look at how one family did not give up when faced with a crisis. The picture's unsentimental, straightforward manner (which includes subdued - yet engaging - narration by Jeanne) works in its favor, and the cinematography is quite lovely. The film works on several levels, offering an exploration of small town life, a touching look at family history, change in life and the way that once-booming rural family farming has been quickly vanishing (there were 6 million American farmers in the 60's, but by the 90's, there were only 2 million.) It's a haunting, powerful and just plain wonderful film that should be seen by all.
VIDEO: "Troublesome Creek" is presented by Wellspring in 1.33:1 full-frame, which I'm guessing is the 16mm film's original aspect ratio. Picture quality does have some concerns, but for a low-budget documentary that was released in 1995, the picture mostly looks reasonably good. Sharpness and detail vary; while some low-light interiors look a tad soft, most scenes looked at least moderately crisp.
Some very slight edge enhancement was visible in a couple of the brighter outdoor scenes, but more of a concern were the occasional instances of print flaws. While nothing too terribly serious, some scratches, marks and other debris were spotted briefly at various points in the film. Still, quite a good portion of the film looked crisp and clean. Colors appeared natural and accurately presented, with no smearing or other issues.
SOUND: The stereo soundtrack works perfectly fine, delivering clear dialogue, narration and ambient sound.
EXTRAS: Sadly, just trailers for other titles from the studio, photo galleries and bios. I'd have loved to have heard a commentary from the filmmakers and family members.
Final Thoughts: This is an absolutely exceptional documentary that chronicles one family's courage and struggle in the face of hard times, yet it also manages to incorporate a lot of other elements, as well. The DVD offers satisfactory audio/video quality, but little in the way of supplements. Highly recommended.