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The Story: Friends really can drop out of the sky

On a summer day in 1999, Andrew King and Frank Pavliga were flying their antique airplanes over the vast farmland of eastern Indiana. They were coming home from an airshow in small, vintage, single-engine planes, the type used by their heroes, the barnstormers. In the 1920s and 1930s, gypsy “barnstorming” pilots would simply put down in a field, advertise the chance to fly, and watch the customers line up. The barnstormers’ simple planes were nothing short of miracles to the farmers, townspeople and children who were lucky enough to experience the thrill of flying for the first time.

In that spirit, Andrew and Frank steered their planes toward a dark green plot of alfalfa on a dairy farm and landed to take some pictures, just for the fun of it. Matt Dirksen, the farmer, thought he had just seen two planes crash in his field, and went over to investigate. Andrew and Frank quickly made up a story about engine trouble. Almost immediately, they heard the approaching shouts of excitement from two young boys, and a slightly suspicious Matt himself. The past was suddenly reborn. In the old tradition, the pilots treated the boys to their first flights. Matt and his wife invited the pilots to come back someday for a home-cooked meal. The pilots returned the next year bringing a few friends with their own airplanes, and a new tradition was born.Year after year more friends and neighbors drop by the farm to see the planes come. The home-cooked meal has become an annual event for the entire community. There are more kids, and each eagerly awaits their annual ride. And after a day of fun, flying, food, dancing, late night stories, and camping under the wings, it all ends until the next year.

The Film

The film immerses the viewer in the adventure, giving them the perspective of a participant. It follows the pilots and the Dirksens as they prepare for the most exciting day of the year. The pilots gather from around the country before flying to the farm, while the Dirksens turn their alfalfa field into an airstrip and prepare a picnic for 200 friends. The film unfolds with ever-increasing anticipation, leading to the annual reunion.

The spirit of the film mirrors the spirit of the event itself. As a story of ordinary people who share one extraordinary day a year, the film is a pastoral portrait of the rural American Midwest, the lyrical life of antique airplane pilots, the breathtaking beauty of flight itself, and a celebration of friendship. Its characters are architects, dairy farmers, consultants, jet pilots, parents, school children and laborers every day of the year but one. On the day the planes come, they are all kids again.

Barnstorming is a documentary with a cinematic feel. The majority of the film was shot over two consecutive years’ events (a total of only four days’ shooting), without any pre-defined script, coercion of the characters, or staging by the filmmakers. The imagery, at times intimate, and at times sweeping vast panoramic landscapes, allows viewers to experience this innocent event as it happens, through the eyes of the pilots, the farmer, and his children. It allows them to become one the participants. The fleeting joys of childhood, and the nostalgia for simpler times are remedied by the spontaneous creation of friendship and community.

Copyright 2009, Barnstorming Productions, LLC