An eccentric Irish farmer takes on an industrial giant in Feargal Ward’s idiosyncratic documentary

The Lonely Battle Of Thomas Reid

Source: IDFA

Dir: Feargal Ward. Ireland. 2017. 85 mins

A lyrical and unconventional approach brings an added layer of interest to this ’David and Goliath’ tale of an eccentric Irish farmer from North East Kildare who takes on the might of an American computing corporation. Feargal Ward’s handsome documentary explores the clash between tradition and progress; between the rights of the individual and the perceived good of society.

The transcripts of the court case are re-enacted in the grounds of the farm, with barristers surrounded by rusting equipment, and a judge delivering a verdict from atop a discarded concrete drainage pipe

While it doesn’t quite have the newsworthy punch of the similarly themed You’ve Been Trumped, this documentary compensates with pleasingly wayward and idiosyncratic dramatic recreations, and the quality of craft which has gone into the the photography and the eerily textured sound design. The small scale of the story might prove off-putting to all but specialist documentary distributors, yet within niche venues and VOD platforms, the film should connect with a receptive audience. Likewise, following its world premiere in the main competition at IDFA, further festival interest seems likely.

There’s an ageless, timeless quality to the rhythms and routines of life on Thomas Reid’s cattle farm. With his hair that looks as if it was trimmed with a repurposed piece of farming equipment, and his threadbare clothes in shades of muddy brown, the 55 year-old farmer seems at one with the land. He’s certainly more at ease chatting to his cows than he is muttering self-consciously to the camera.

The desaturated photography gives the film an aged, faded quality. We could easily be watching found footage from sixty years ago. But gradually we become aware of the roar of traffic which cuts through the pastoral peace of Reid’s existence. Just on the other side of the unkempt thicket of hedge is a busy thoroughfare which serves the vast, hi tech factory plant of the US company Intel.

Through an aural mosaic of radio fragments and interview snippets, the backdrop is sketched. The Celtic Tiger has been roused from a period of hibernation; the country is aggressively courting foreign industry with a combination of tax breaks and cheap land. The land is sourced by the Industrial Development Authority or IDA, a government body which, among other things, identifies areas which are ripe for development. And one such area is the farm of Thomas Reid.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Thomas, a dyed-in-the-wool bachelor and a compulsive hoarder who keeps everything from the labels on his bananas, to the black plastic wrap from his hay bales, is not about to part with his farm.

Thwarted by the gentle but immovable Thomas, the IDA serves a compulsory purchase order on the farm which has been home to the Reid family for 100 years. Thomas decides to take his case to the High Court. The transcripts of the case are re-enacted in the grounds of the farm, with barristers surrounded by rusting equipment, and a judge delivering a verdict from atop a discarded concrete drainage pipe. It’s an elegant device which both sidesteps the legal restrictions of documenting a case in court, and re-enforces the immutable certainty of Thomas Reid that his little corner of Kildare is, in its own way, the centre of his world and the only home he will ever need.

Production company/international sales: FSE Films,

Producer: Luke McManus

Screenplay: Feargal Ward, Tadhg O’Sullivan

Cinematographer: Feargal Ward

Editor: Tadhg O’Sullivan

Sound Design: Tadhg O’Sullivan

Featuring: Thomas Reid