PBS Premiere: July 9, 2002Check the broadcast schedule »

Ask the Filmmaker

Viewer Question: What a wonderful film. I was very touched by your sharing the later years of your grandfather with the public. It is a sensitive, respectful, loving film. Did the making of the film, in any way, change your relationship with your grandfather? If so, how? Again, please accept my sincere congratulations on making a fine and noble film. I was very moved.
Sincerely, Ralph

McCollum: I always had fond feelings for my grandfather but I never felt completely at ease being around him. It was only until I had begun spending time following him around on his chores, speaking with him about past histories, and watching many McNeil /Lehrer news hours by his side that I began to understand the quiet companionship that he reciprocated. I became much closer to him, and I saw an altogether unique side to him I had never seen. There is a great amount to be learned from spending time with older generations, listening to what they would have done differently, and what they are proud of having done.

Viewer Question: How did you decide on the structure of the film? what guided you to make decisions about moving back and forth between the corn story and the family story? it was wonderful, just amazing: touching, informative, contemplative, life-affirming. you and your wife should be very, very proud!!

McCollum: Some of the structure was born out of necessity. Over the years it was a struggle figuring out how to form such disparate footage into a cohesive whole. Eventually certain common threads began appearing. I had an interest in animation from the beginning and I knew that in order to make the film work considering the subject matter, it needed to be an intriguing film. Ariana and I tried to integrate many different kinds of animation, but in the end the animation of the actual corn integrated the best. We were also searching for another way of representing my grandfather's feelings for the land and the corn plant. The animation scenes allowed for a certain contemplative and at times humorous mood to be created.

Viewer Question: Hello Monteith, Thank you for your beautiful tribute to a very lovable man. In a way, your film exposed a very contemporary dilemma between responsibility towards family and the obligation one has to be true to his or her self. In your intimate portrayal of one man's fate to follow his passion you deliberately included segments which reveal that sometimes his children were the abandoned casualties of his obsessions. It struck me that there were uncomfortable similarities between our beautiful heroes of yesterday and some of the "dead beat dads" that neglect giving their children the love they need today. Did you come to any conclusions about the ethics of performing a balance between the desires of self and familial needs?

McCollum: Personally I feel it's important to be able to commit time to one's interests and family. Milford realized this too late. In his older years he regretted not participating more in his son and daughter's life as they were growing up. It's hard to be committed to something and spend time with family. However, in Milford's case I don't think he ever thought much about it as long as he was preoccupied with his business. It was only when things began slowing down for him that he realized he did not spend the time needed to foster a father son/daughter relationship.

Viewer Question: Hi, my question is: Was there a purpose for the inclusion of the animation beyond making a film about a farmer more interesting? Is there a relationship between the animation you chose to include in your grandfather's life story or was it simply to make a story about a farmer more interesting?
Thanks, Nate Norman

McCollum: As a filmmaker, I'm drawn to exploring the creative potential of film and the documentary genre. Through the integration of animation we tried to present an unusual perspective on the subject, making it more interesting for us to make, and for the viewer to watch.

Viewer Question: As someone who grew up on a farm, I was especially enthralled by the animation and music of "Hybrid"...and of course the film itself. Hybrid was such a delight for those of us somewhat knowledgeable about what he was trying to do, and did accomplish.

Curiously, I didn't notice much mention about his original lineage? This selection process had to be the most exhausting part of getting established. Was it our/his old open-pollinated corn, selected for the characteristics he deemed best? And then the best ears from that? Or did he "import" special lines? Did he keep records, or was it all in his head? Typically I keep what we call stud books on (flower) crosses I make -- for two reasons -- one to know what the genetic makeup of a seedling is, and two, so that I can repeat it if need be... I suspect Milford had a tremendous impact on the people who own and run modern-day seed giants, like Garst. (jokingly said :))I'd like to know how many of them took his hybrids as their startup and went on from there!!! Iowa was lucky to have a Milford Beeghly -- he certainly would have been welcome, and fit right in, here in central Illinois too!!! Keep up the good work.
Best wishes, Roger Kirkwood

McCollum: Milford was lucky to have attended a course in hybridization and genetics at Iowa State in the early 30s. There he met Henry Wallace who made a lasting impression on him and gave him some hybrid seed to grow. Much of Milford's early hybrid varieties came from seed that he obtained through the experiment station at the agriculture school in Ames, IA. He did keep detailed records on index cards, but much of what he knew was in his head. For quite some time I was told by one of his former employees that he was very proud of the fact that he didn't have to write many things down but could remember them. I was amazed by his memory, even into his late nineties he was able to rattled off the historical lineages of many of the hybrid varieties he and other hybrid seed companies sold. Milford did help out other seed companies in Iowa and surrounding states and he was never shy to share his knowledge with others.

Viewer Question: Mr. McCollum --Bravo on a wonderful piece of filmmaking! I was especially intrigued with the animation in "Hybrid." Any chance you might do more of this type of animation as short features or release some of animated sequences left out of your documentary as a separate project?
Sincerely, Tony Martinez

McCollum: Yes, I plan on continuing the use of animation in the next film that both Ariana Gerstein and I are currently working on. I don't have current plans on making use of the edited out animation footage, in the future perhaps.