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Local metal-worker’s first film accepted into Tribal Film Festival

The first movie made by longtime local blacksmith turned filmmaker Jason Roy Couch has been accepted in the Tribal Film Festival (TFF) in Oklahoma. It details the battle of Rogue Valley farmers to win at the ballot box in 2014 a ban on growing Genetically Modified Organisms in Jackson County.

The TFF is a big notch in Couch’s belt, but it shines with an additional glow because of the fact that the festival only screens movies about Native American life. This documentary was selected, he says, because, far from getting into Indians or health issues around GMOs, it vividly shows how “basic, down-to-earth people and communities can fight back against corporations.”

That dynamic, he notes, gained special importance for Indians in the Standing Rock fight against the Dakota Access pipeline.

Couch, 57, grew up on a farm near Phoenix and has been active in Grange issues all his life. He is a veteran and member of the Muskogee Creek tribe. He started his passion for photography as a child and recently won his master’s degree in filmmaking from Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

The 15-minute “short doc” is called “Be Hardy: Be GMO Free.”

“There’s a lot of science around GMO but I didn’t get into all that,” says Couch. “What I did was show is, ‘here’s what you can do locally.’ It’s about activism.”

Ashlander and chard farmer Chris Hardy, chief petitioner of the anti-GMO election, is the subject of the film.

Hardy says the months of demonstrations, rallies, lobbying of legislators and campaigning for the ballot initiative was “to protect the local farm. We got sued by Monsanto (maker of the GMO) and we paid for that suit, which we won. The voice of the people was heard in Jackson County. We made history. It was the most expensive ballot measure ever in Southern Oregon.”

During the brouhaha, the Oregon Legislature banned laws banning GMO crops, but, says Hardy, Jackson Country was early enough in the process that they were exempted.

“They (corporation) tried to stifle democracy. They tried to sideswipe it. But we went to Salem and fought them.”

The documentary can be viewed at www.Tribal.TV during the Film Festival, which runs Aug. 25 to Sept. 4. It is available on Amazon Instant Video, Hulu and Apple TV.

Couch may arrange local showings of the film in coordination with an educational film series he is producing for Our Family Farms, the organization created for the anti-GMO campaign.

With a strong streak of independence, Couch notes he created his film venture so he has the skills to do shooting, writing, editing, sound and motion graphics all by himself, on his laptop.

Among his heroes, he says, are Woody Guthrie and John Steinbeck, whose “Grapes of Wrath” is a primer of “the basic, down-to-earth people” that still needs to be studied. Guthrie’s guitar bore the motto, “This machine kills fascists” and Couch notes his camera might well be labeled, “This camera helps enlighten the common people.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Contact him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Courtesy photoJason R. Couch wears a red shawl with his tribal symbol on it that awarded to him by the tribe for completing his master’s degree.
Organic farmer and anti-GMO activist Chris Hardy in a still from the movie "Be Hardy!"