black and white, 56 min, 1978, digitally remastered 2014
From early Colonial times, the rural hilltowns of New England have been home to generations of dairy farmers. They earned their living through a remarkably varied combination of seasonal activities and incessant daily chores — maple sugaring, plowing, planting, cultivating, haying, logging, clearing fields, building stone walls, mending fences, harvesting crops, cutting, splitting and stacking firewood, breeding, doctoring, trading and slaughtering their cattle, pigs, sheep, chickens and horses; while also daily milking & feeding their herds, mucking stalls, cooking, cleaning, tending home fires and raising their families.
All the while they supported each other in tightly knit communities sustained by shared values, mutual needs, and respect for the land.
When Jefferson envisioned the citizenry essential for the success of America's experiment in democracy, these were very possibly the type of agrarian people he well knew and had in mind: self-reliant, hard-working, good-humored, neighborly, and blessed with common sense.
Root Hog or Die is a portrait of a living remnant of this once pervasive but rapidly vanishing way of life. Filmed in 1973 in hilltowns across Western Massachusetts and Southern Vermont, it follows the cycle of the farming year from spring to winter. In its course we visit with an array of elders, who reflect on farming's deep natural patterns, share their family histories and personal memories, and ponder the inevitable forces of technological and social change they have endured. The bittersweet nature of their challenges is manifest, as is the quiet pride they take in their lives as farmers.
“A significant contribution to American oral history.” — Alan Lomax
“A must for every American Studies program.” — Robert Gardner