Timely doc 'Common Ground' gives us the dirt on ineffective, deadly farming practices

“Common Ground” — ★ ★ ★ ½

An open letter to filmmaker Adam “The Big Short” McKay:

Dear Mr. McKay,

I have a perfect idea for your next movie — a dramatic version of the important and timely documentary “Common Ground,” directed by Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Tickell.

You would love this doc because it claims to be about literal life or death for our nation, and our planet, provided we can stop our ineffective and poisonous farming practices and adopt something called regenerative farming.

Let's come back to that.

This glitzy, handsomely produced doc uses split-screens, graphs, charts, animation, interviews, pop music and loads of celebrities to warn us that factory farming, pesticides, herbicides, genetically modified crops and tillage (regular plowing) have depleted the soil of carbon, an essential element in growing fruits and vegetables, leading to global warming and eventual food shortages.

“Carbon in the soil drives life,” a farmer explains.

Wait. There's more.

“Common Ground” tackles the unholy alliance of “big farma” chemical companies and Congress, so that lobbyists and political contributions make stock prices more important than American lives and health.

You'll love this, Mr. McKay. When writer Carey Gillam wrote a book exposing that Monsanto execs knew their Roundup weed killer contained cancer-causing substances, they hired 300 contractors to threaten and smear her, paid “reviewers” to trash her book online, and even rigged Google so that if anyone searched Gillam's name or book, people would be immediately taken to a website operated by Monsanto.

A great hook for a movie plot, don't you think?

“Common Ground” also covers the crushing debt farmers carry to put food on our tables, leading a distraught, 42-year-old dad and husband to kill himself. (Farmers are the leading victims of suicides now, the movie says.)

So, this documentary jams a lot of connected topics into a concentrated 105 minutes, and I must admit that my eyeballs started glazing over at about the 70-minute mark, after writing pages of notes to keep up with the stats and percentages. It's all solid information. A lot of information.

This is where you come in, Mr. McKay.

Your 2015 masterpiece “The Big Short” took a complex topic — the mortgage crisis of 2008 — and made a witty, comical, suspenseful experience that explained it all for us regular folks.

That's what “Common Ground” needs, something to make it feel less of a fast-paced position paper, and to supply a stronger call-to-arms finale instead of the very nice, we-can-do-it-together Hallmark card wrap-up pressing for regenerative farming, a four-part restorative practice used for untold generations by Native Americans.

How about it, Mr. McKay? A scary, fact-based black comedy about humanity starving to death because of greed and public disinterest?

You can even hire the same actors who supply commentary in this documentary: Laura Dern, Jason Momoa, Rosario Dawson, Ian Somerhalder, Woody Harrelson and Donald Glover.

They might even agree to work for food. Regeneratively grown, of course.

Note: “Common Ground” will be shown at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18, at Chicago's Music Box Theatre with directors Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Tickell hosting a VIP reception beforehand. A panel discussion follows with regeneratively grown food, beer and cocktails made with locally produced spirits. Proceeds will support the Locally Made program. Tickets are available at

• • •

With Laura Dern, Jason Momoa, Rosario Dawson, Ian Somerhalder, Woody Harrelson and Donald Glover

Directed by: Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Tickell

Other: An Area 23a theatrical release at AMC Northbrook 14. Not rated by the MPAA. 105 minutes

Farmer Gabe Brown discusses the use of regenerative farming in the documentary "Common Ground." Courtesy of Big Picture Ranch
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