We often forget that some of the greatest stories in cinema come from real life. The things we do as humans, the lives we lead, the experiences we have, and memories we collect are the basis for the things we turn into film, and by extension art. In When Tomatoes Met Wagner director Marianna Economou captures the essence of storytelling by simply letting her subjects live their lives.
Aleco and Christo are cousins who run an organic farm in rural Greece, growing tomatoes with the help of some hard-working old ladies and, a key component, music blasted across the fields. Packing their lovingly grown produce as expensive specialty meals for overseas consumers, they struggle to sustain their livelihood in a trendy market.
Director and cinematographer Marianna Economou filmed over a period of 5 years collecting snippets of activity, so I asked her why this particular group of farmers was so appealing. “For some reason I just couldn’t stop going back because I really felt very strongly that there was something unfinished, there was something very special about these people.” she said. “It was only in the last 2 years that I decided this could make a really interesting story. It had different levels.”
There is a simplicity to the shots of this film. No fancy angles or complicated techniques, they merely capture what needs to be shown. But this is not a complaint because the champion of this film is its editing. Making moments captured from different times flow smoothly from one point to the next. You feel as if you have become voyeur to the subjects everyday lives, but you slowly become more welcome as the film progresses, and by the end, feel a part of the family. Documentaries can sometimes have a feeling of audience manipulation. You can often feel the point that the filmmaker wants to make being force fed to to you, but in this film it’s as if there is no voice of god, which is definitely a positive.
Mythology and storytelling is a big part of the farmers lives and capturing this was something that Marianna set out to do. “We all need myths in our lives, you know, to make sense of things” she said, “it made them feel important and unique.” The farmers use the origin story of their tomato seed as the strength to keep going despite the struggles they face as a dying village falling victim to diet trends of the western world. Similarly the way they play classical music to help their tomatoes grow feeds into this idea of myths also.
With footage from 5 years worth of visits to go through the story that ends up being told is focused on certain elements. The families method of production, the myths that keep them going, the old ladies who work with Aleco and Christo. “The truth is there were whole chapters I had to through away completely.” Marianna said, “Men for example. The presence of men is not so, but they couldn’t fit some how.” It doesn’t effect the quality of the story told however. If anything it makes it a stronger film and I very much enjoyed being told the story of these farmers, by these farmers, through the way in which Marianna curated the footage without a heavy hand. When Tomatoes Met Wagner is a heartwarming tale that makes you feel more connected to the world and leaves you with a taste for tomatoes.
When Tomatoes Met Wagner has already finished screening at the Sydney Film Festival this year, but you can read their description on their website below.