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Cinema Junkie by Beth Accomando

The Astronaut Farmer/Interview with the Polish Brothers

The Polish Brothers are independent filmmakers with an eye for the unusual. Take the poster for their new film. It has a man in a space suit astride a horse and boasts the intriguing title The Astronaut Farmer (opening February 23 throughout San Diego). KPBS film critic Beth Accomando speaks with the Polish Brothers about their new work.

Astronaut Farmer 1

Billy Bob Thornton as The Astronaut Farmer

FARMER: "Now this space suit will allow me to control the climate and the pressure that you need to be in space."

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GIRL: "Have you been to space?"

FARMER: "No, not yet."

The Astronaut Farmer is about a man named Charles Farmer who builds a rocket in his barn and plans to launch himself into space. Sound crazy? Well not to Mark and Michael Polish who are sitting in the San Diego Aerospace Museum, surrounded by the likes of Neil Armstrong, Charles Lindbergh, and the Wright Brothers.

MARK POLISH: "Sitting in this museum, you figure how many eccentric characters are here. I mean most of this stuff in here was a fantasy to somebody at one time."

Thats writer-producer Mark Polish. Some have called his new film a fairy tale.

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MARK POLISH: "Its a fairy tale if you dont believe it. I believe wholeheartedly that you could build your own rocket and launch yourself."

As children, the brothers were fascinated by the space program and its astronauts says writer-director Michael Polish.

Polish Brothers

Filmmakers Mark and Michael Polis

MIKE POLISH: "To see that maverick attitude and that kind of rebellious nature to do what they wanted to do. They wanted to go to the moon and in nine years that focus of a nation got us to the moon. Thats something I think is lost and with this film it paralleled one mans dream to have that maverick attitude."

A maverick attitude is also needed to make independent film says Mark who sees a parallel between Farmers story and his own.

MARK POLISH: "We werent invited to mke a movie in Hollywood we kind of built it in our own barn."

The Polish Brothers have been building movies in their barn for almost a decade. In films such as Twin Falls Idaho and Northfork , they reveal a keen eye for oddities in the American landscape be it a pair of conjoined twins trying to look normal, a huge ark sitting in the middle of a Montana town or a rocket nestled in a barn.

MARK POLISH: "We find visual elements like a rocket, a Mercury Atlas, as something very romantic and visually stunning. Those are the type of things that as kids we went to movies for and we wanted to be in awe of what the director, the storyteller was telling us. And thats something that we always like to give back to the audience, to be not only impressed but to be taken away by our visuals."

And their visuals do transport audiences, taking them away from the cynicism of contemporary life and into a world where anything is possible.

FARMER: "As a kid I was told that I could be anything I wanted to be. No matter what. And maybe I am insane but I still believe that. I believe with all my heart."

And Mark Polish believes wholeheartedly in the characters he creates. No matter how absurd they may seem to the outside world.

MARK POLISH: "You cant go in there judging Charles Farmer. You give Charles Farmer life, and you gotta see it through no matter if hes going to be perceived as selfish to some as a good father to others or a crazy lunatic to another person."

Astronaut Farmer 2

The Astronaut Farmer

PSYCHIATRIST: "Would you like to discuss your desire to leave the planet?"

FARMER: "Not particularly."

In Charles, the film creates an eccentric character whos firmly rooted in the real world. He combines two divergent but iconic images: the astronaut and the farmer. Juxtaposing images like these is what Mike Polish and his brother love to do.

MIKE POLISH: "We had an idea to make this feel like a Norman Rockwell illustration, and have those tableaus where the family is altogether and eating and having a good time and at the end of the table was an astronaut. And to have those ironic images and that was important to us to have a visual that was very pleasing at all times and say this is the journey and this is what it looks like."

REPORTER: "Mr. Farmer why are you doing this?"

FARMER: "Its always been my dream."

Dreams are precisely what The Astronaut Farmer is about. Its an unabashedly inspirational film about sticking to your guns no matter how many people tell you youre crazy. The Polish brothers would like nothing better than to have Charles Farmer inspire a new generation of kids to dream. And the films good enough that it just might do that.

NOTE: The Astronaut Farmer will be one of the films up for discussion on the February 28th KPBS Film Club of the Air, 10:00 am on These Days.

Companion viewing: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Natural, Field of Dreams, The Right Stuff Richard Wendrock
July 20, 2007 at 03:01 PM
Very enjoyable film, good story, great quality film and there are beautiful scenes through out the movie, one is left wondering if this was a true story. -----