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The Farmer’s Wife

Year: 1998

Length: 6.5 hours

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David Sutherland takes us deep inside the world of Juanita and Darrel Buschkoetter, a young Nebraska farm couple, to tell a compelling love story. Gleaned from more than 200 hours of film shot on location over three years, "The Farmer's Wife" follows Juanita and Darrel as they face seemingly insurmountable economic hardship, only to confront an even greater challenge -- saving their marriage.

Described by the Chicago Tribune as "one of the extraordinary television events of the decade," the premiere broadcast of "The Farmer's Wife," a David Sutherland film, in September 1998 was seen by 18 million PBS viewers. More than four times as many people watched "The Farmer's Wife" as read Time magazine each week (4,000,000). The viewer response was 99% positive and cut across class, race, gender, and was as much urban as rural.

In 1973, "An American Family" became one of the most watched and discussed documentaries in television history. Now, a quarter century later, PBS presents another unforgettable family portrait, marked by the same intimacy and access to private life that made the Louds of Santa Barbara a household name. But this is a portrait of a very different kind of American family and of a very different America.

David Sutherland takes us deep inside the world of Juanita and Darrel Buschkoetter, a young Nebraska farm couple, to tell a compelling love story. Gleaned from more than 200 hours of film shot on location over three years, "The Farmer's Wife" follows Juanita and Darrel as they face seemingly insurmountable economic hardship, only to confront an even greater challenge -- saving their marriage.

The audience is privy to a disarmingly intimate, emotionally engrossing portrait of a passionate yet troubled relationship. In scene after scene, Juanita and Darrel fight a punishing series of battles -- with the soil, with the weather, with their creditors, with the government, and with each other. Their story unfolds before our eyes, as it is happening. What emerges is an epic story of faith, perserverance, and triumph, and an indelible portrait of a real American family's struggle to hold on to their dreams and to each other.

PART ONE of THE FARMER'S WIFE introduces us to the Buschkoetters in the spring of 1995 at a low point in their story. Juanita and Darrel are people on the edge, facing disaster and the loss of everything they hold dear to them-their farm, their possessions, their self-respect, their marriage. The survival of their farm hangs on the tenuous thread of an approval of a government loan, and Darrel's lifelong hope of taking over his father's nearby farm seems increasingly remote.

Their marriage is under obvious strain. Juanita is upset that Darrel spends all of his time worrying that he may have to give up his dream of farming and resents that he no longer finds satisfaction in the simple pleasures of daily life.

"I know I deny it a lot of times, but the only thing I can think of is that I must, deep down, be holding it against Darrel, you know, the situation we're in right now," says Juanita. "And I know most of it's not his fault, but I don't know how to get over that."

One of the things that drew Juanita to Darrel was his extraordinary passion for farming, and she is driven to help him achieve his dream so he can once again be the man she fell in love with. "Darrel lives and breathes ... farming," says Juanita. "There's a connection to the land that I know that most people don't understand. If somebody like that has to quit farming and do something else ... there's a love that's no longer there. And, to me ... a part of the identity of America is to have somebody so much in love with what they do ... that they're willing to do so much for it."

In 1991, the bank sent the Buschkoetters a letter saying they were ready to liquidate their farm, and Juanita and Darrel were forced to take jobs in town to keep food on the table. Juanita cleans houses for well-to-do families. For Darrel, devoted to farming with an almost religious zeal, working off the farm feels like a self-imposed exile from paradise. Reluctantly, he takes a job at a factory that makes irrigation systems, doing back-breaking, mind-numbing work. After an endless day of pushing steel, he returns home exhausted, covered in oil, his clothes torn. Somehow, he finds the strength to do his own farm work at night.

"If I could make a living out here in the farm," says Darrel, "I wouldn't have to be in town during the day trying to bring home enough income to buy groceries. So naturally I could do a better job at farming, and I could be a better father, I could be a better husband. It's just been hell."

"The last three years he's aged so much," Juanita says of her husband. "I look at pictures from three years ago and he's so much of an older man. And sometimes I feel ... he's had to do so much physical work that he's not able to take control of our financial situation or even understand it."

In the early days of marriage, Darrel ran things on the farm, and an admiring Juanita followed his lead, but their economic hardships have left him desperate, exhausted, and emotionally ill-equipped to deal with an agricultural world run by bankers and bureaucrats.

In 1992, without telling Darrel, Juanita wrote a letter to Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey asking him to intercede on their behalf with the government lender of last resort, the FMHA. It was a turning point for Juanita, who began to take over the family's finances. "In the beginning when I first started dealing with the bank and anybody with our financial situation ... I had to talk to Darrel first and ... over time I just started making decisions on my own," she says.

Darrel grows more and more dependent on his increasingly sophisticated and self-reliant wife. He says he welcomes Juanita's growing competence, but it is clear that his ego is badly bruised. "When we first met, I did everything for her. She depended on me for everything," he says. "But now, she actually has just as much or more control over things than I do, you know, that probably eats on a guy a little bit."

In the midst of the couple's troubles, at a time when Darrel and Juanita can barely speak to one another, Darrel tells filmmaker David Sutherland, with surprising candor: "I think ... with the financial problems that we have, she blames me a lot for them. That's where she has a lot of the bitterness towards me. She won't say she does but I think she does. And I don't like that part about her, because I feel like bomb's gonna go off if something don't get said."

Juanita struggles with the changes in her new marital role, although she is undeniably proud of her growing independence. The realization that the husband she once idolized is powerless to make a move without consulting her, coupled with the intense financial pressure, puts increasing strain on a marriage already stretched to the breaking point.

When the FMHA loan is finally approved, the Buschkoetters have enough money to plant, but the rain won't let up so that they can get the crop in the ground. Juanita has the children praying that the rain will stop. And when it does, Darrel gets the crop planted with barely enough growing time to have a respectable harvest. He is optimistic that it will be a "hell of a crop" if they don't have an early frost, which will convince the FMHA to finance them for another year. Juanita is not so sure.

Without the time or money to take courses at the college, Juanita works at home to get a college degree so she can get a job and "make a decent living." Darrel worries that she'll find something off the farm that she likes better. Juanita grapples with her desire to be a stay-at-home mother, but derives unmistakable satisfaction from her work. Unlike her husband, who is ill at ease off the farm, she thrives in her dealings with the outside world: "I have a dream," she says, "of making a difference in farmer's lives." But even with two outside jobs, money is exceedingly tight -- a mere $11,000 a year for a family of five.

"I'm so tired of scratching, but you try to make meals and you try to hide the fact that there's no meat in the meals ... because when there's no money, you can't buy groceries," says Juanita. "It's so hard for me to see that times will ever get better. I can't ever imagine having money again to buy the groceries. I can't even imagine it."

In the summer of 1995, with only twenty dollars a month for groceries, Juanita is forced to apply for food stamps. "I never want to do it again," says Juanita. "And I rightfully don't feel like we deserve the food stamps ... why should somebody else pay for our groceries because of some of the mistakes we made in farming, but what else do you do? When you have three kids to feed you have to feed 'em somehow."

Part one of "The Farmer's Wife" begins the journey to the core of Darrel and Juanita's emotional struggles: how Darrel must deal with Juanita's family, who disapproves of the way he takes care of his family; Juanita's stormy relationship with Darrel's father, who blames her for Darrel's having to work away from the farm; Darrel's suspicions that Juanita has been unfaithful; and her feelings that Darrel is a better son to his parents than a husband to her. Their marriage is pushed to the brink.

In PART TWO of THE FARMER'S WIFE, filmmaker David Sutherland's camera focuses on the rhythms of everyday life during the tense fall of 1995 in the Buschkoetter family.

In September, an early frost destroys thirty per cent of their crops -- dashing their hopes for a bountiful harvest that could ensure they could continue farming. Scratching to feed and clothe a family of five on $11,000 a year erodes their hopes and all but eradicates their dreams. No one believes in them. Juanita's family continues to pressure her and Darrel to give up farming and find real jobs in town. Juanita says, "In order for me to quit farming, you know, I'd have to leave Darrel 'cause he'll never quit until he has to, so I'll fight it out just as long as Darrel can."

Meanwhile, Juanita, who only has a high school diploma, is taking classes from the local community college, determined to get a degree that will lead to a good job. One of her brothers went to Harvard and a sister went to Wellesley, and she yearns to make a difference in something, not to be "just a dumb farm wife that has no voice." Darrel is wary of Juanita's drive for an education, afraid she will prefer the outside world rather than their life together on the farm.

"Darrel says I'm just gonna go ahead and get my education, then I'll be too good for him and leave him," says Juanita. "But you know, that's just his insecurity."

This tension plays out in a dramatic episode in October when Juanita wants to attend her sister's bridal shower in Kansas City, three hundred miles away, and Darrel doesn't want her to go. He says he is afraid of what could happen. "There's always people that are unhappy with who they're married with, and they're always ... looking for a good time with somebody else," he says. "It's always a worry."

"I think that fear is in Darrel all the time, he thinks ... I'd leave, and I try to tell him that all the time I know I never would. I've always thought divorce is sad, but I think it's even sadder when there's you know, really bad marriages," says Juanita.

While she is away, the camera tracks Darrel's growing anxieties as he worries aloud with his parents, struggles to take care of his daughters, and spends a lonely night at home. Juanita will be gone less than 24 hours. To Darrel, it seems like a week.

In late October, with his disappointing harvest finally over, Darrel has to go back to working off-farm to make extra money. But he is hopeful. This year he has quit the job he hated at the irrigation plant and has found work with another farmer at $7 an hour. It's less money than his old job, but at least it will be work he enjoys.

Part Two of "The Farmer's Wife" watches Darrel's hopes for his new job turn sour. He comes home each night with hours of work on his own farm still facing him. His schedule is grueling and night after night, his exhaustion grows.

"Trying to farm during the night and work all day for somebody else, it's worse than a living hell," he says. "Your body just feels like hell all the time."

On Halloween, Juanita throws a party for her daughters and their friends. It is a heartwarming scene of musical chairs and apple bobbing that feels like a moment from another time in American life. Darrel arrives home that night exhausted, unable to eat his dinner and collapses in front of the television, half-listening to a news report about the soldier in Fort Bragg who shot seventeen of his comrades. "Sometimes a guy can only take so much," he sighs.

Juanita is still cleaning houses, but there are times when there isn't enough cash, and she is forced to go to a food bank for groceries.

Meanwhile, the FMHA tells them their farm loan is in jeopardy, unless they can convince all their creditors to agree to wait another two years to be paid in full. Juanita is now fully in charge of the couple's finances and so the onerous task of telling each of the creditors they won't be paid this year falls to her. Darrel's temper and anger at the creditors' attempts to collect makes it too dangerous to send him on this delicate task, and while he seethes at home, Juanita ventures out night after night to beg for more time.

By Christmas 1995, as Part Two ends, the FMHA loan is approved -- they will be farming for another year, but right now, the Buschkoetters are dead broke. At night, Juanita dreams she has no money to buy the girls anything for Christmas.

"I can see why people end up getting divorced," she says. "You really have to really dig deep and look and know what you want and ... how much you're committed," says Juanita. "Hopefully, we're gonna come out on top with ... our marriage and the farm."

In PART THREE of THE FARMER'S WIFE, the tense struggle between the Buschkoetters' dreams and the pressures that threaten their farm and their marriage moves toward a dramatic and surprising resolution.

By the spring of 1996, Darrel's dream of farming full time, working his own land and his father's land is now within his grasp. "I worked with Dad for years hoping for this moment ... for when he retired that I could take over his operation and make one decent size operation so a family of five could at least maybe make a living on it," says Darrel.

But this dream is shadowed by a lifetime of unspoken resentments between Darrel and his father, Leroy Buschkoetter --over Leroy's inability to praise Darrel, over years of working for his father without pay, over fears Leroy will not really allow Darrel to run the new combined farm.

"Juanita thinks Darrel should take a firmer stance with Leroy and maybe put his foot down," says family mediator Shari Miller, "but Darrel feels a great obligation and responsibility to his parents, and so he is having a very difficult time separating from them and devoting himself to his own family."

"When I ask Darrel to stand up to his family," says Juanita, "he says what do you want me to do, tell them to go to hell? And I said no ... just take a stand for me and our girls and us."

In the summer of 1996, Darrel's hopes for a bumper crop are growing, and more family tensions surface when Juanita's mother, Kathy Plas, comes to the farm for a visit. Mrs. Plas had tried to talk Juanita out of marrying Darrel a decade earlier, and she has remained Darrel's toughest critic, believing he has put his love of farming ahead of his duty to provide for Juanita and their three daughters. Her effusive praise of her other children sparks a kitchen table argument between Juanita and her mother: "I don't want to start an argument, Mom," says Juanita, "But I already told you Leroy's been knocking Darrel so badly lately, it doesn't make him feel any better when you go on and on about how better everybody else is doing, like we're doing so awful. He feels like dirt enough."

As the summer lingers, filmmaker David Sutherland's camera also focuses on the pulse of everyday living on the Buschkoetter farm and touching scenes of their daughters, Audrey, Abby, and Whitney. The two oldest girls join 4-H and Audrey, now nine, spends much of the summer trying to train her calf to be led by a halter so she can show him in the county fair. At summer's end, Juanita takes her youngest daughter, Whitney, to her first day of kindergarten in a bittersweet and wistful scene of a young child discovering her world widening, and a mothers recognition that a chapter in her life has closed.

In the fall of 1996, the Buschkoetters finally have the bumper crop that Darrel has been waiting for. He is overjoyed. "I'm thirty-six years old, and for thirty-six years I've been waiting for this year. And it finally happened. All my life everybody's all pessimistic saying we couldn't do it, and finally this year we raised better crops than I've ever, ever seen in my life," says Darrel. "We'd finally show everybody that we could do it."

But even in Darrel's moment of success, Darrel's father cannot praise his son. "It just ain't Darrel's farming different, it's just better moisture," says Leroy. "More moisture this year than we ever had, that's what's doing it."

And the bumper crop has not eased the tensions between Darrel and Juanita. "It just makes me mad," says Juanita. "The threat of losing the farm isn't as big an issue as it has been in the past, but we still have some problems between us that are getting worse ... the priest told him one time that he has to quit telling me my feelings are stupid and ignore what I'm feeling, but it doesn't sink in with him."

And Darrel's frustrations are growing too. The day after he finishes harvesting the bumper crop, he has to go to work for another farmer for wages, because all of their farm profits must go to pay off creditors, and the family still needs outside income to live. "As good as the harvest was, I think I finally just about cracked up," says Darrel. "Most farmers ... throw their hands down and kinda relax, but with me having to have an off-farm job, it built up a lot of anger inside me because any human being alive can only take so much stress." Shortly before Christmas he exploded at Juanita.

"I think it just made me go just crazy," he says about the stress. "I never hit her, didn't beat her up or nothing. I'd lose my temper and I'd yell at Juanita, and I'd call her an ugly bitch or something. There was rumors that I was beating the hell out of her."

Frightened, Juanita leaves Darrel. "She left for a week and there was a letter on the table saying either you learn how to handle your frustration or she wasn't gonna come back," says Darrel. "Whatever it takes to make things work between us, I'm willing to do anything, but she won't give me the benefit of the doubt for nothing."

Despair haunts the Buschkoetters' Christmas. They may have saved their farm, but can they save their marriage? "This is the first time in our married life we ever prayed together, so you realize how much more important this is than the financial problems," sobs Juanita.

Two months later, in March 1997, filmmaker Sutherland returned to the Buschkoetter farm. He could not have been more surprised at what he found. The marriage that had seemed almost doomed at Christmas had been miraculously transformed.

"We kind of reversed the roles," says Darrel. He is now home full time, taking care of the kids and much of the housework, dealing with the FMHA and the banks, while continuing to farm. Juanita is now working full time in town for a crop insurance company. They both seem confident and happy with their new roles. "It means a lot to me to see him happy," says Juanita. "Now, when he has so much more passion for what he's doing and has so much more energy, that's the Darrel I fell in love with."

Darrel explains what happened in December: "Juanita and the kids was gone for a whole week, I never seen my kids for a week and that was enough to realize I wasn't only going to lose her if I didn't change some things, I was gonna lose my whole family ... I finally realized I didn't care if I lost the farm and everything, cause I didn't have nothing left if she and the kids left."

At Juanita's urging, Darrel voluntarily joined an anger counseling group. The changes were stunning. "He's almost back to the same man he used to be," says Juanita, "And I'm glad he's been as willing as he has going to counseling, and that he admits there's problems, both things are much better between us now because of it all, and now I guess whenever I tell him I love him, I really mean it."

In May, on Juanita's thirtieth birthday, Darrel writes a letter to his wife:

"You held us together through thick and thin ... You proved to me that you are the strength and backbone of our family ... Someday I hope we can look back on the past and prove to everyone that it was our love for each other that pulled us through. It makes me so proud to know that I chose a bright and talented person to share my life with. I love you and want to prove that to you each and every day. Love Darrel."

"The Farmer's Wife" is a co-production of David Sutherland Productions and Frontline/WGBH in association with The Independent Television Service (ITVS) and is written, produced, directed, and edited by David Sutherland.

The Making Of


Written, produced, directed, and edited by David Sutherland, "The Farmer's Wife" is a compelling and intimate portrait of the marriage of Darrel and Juanita Buschkoetter. Sutherland gained extraordinary access to the Buschkoetters' daily lives and filmed them periodically over three years (1994-1997), staying at a motel near their farm for as many as two months at a time. The result is a remarkable intimate cinema verite portrait, without narration, that allows the viewer to respond directly to Juanita and Darrel.

The intimacy of the portrait is no accident; set in the rhythms of everyday life, every aspect of the production was carefully designed by Sutherland to achieve that crucial effect. He supervised the elegant, constantly moving hand-held camera, directing every take and watching it on a portable video monitor. At the end of each day, Sutherland and his crew would screen footage analyzing what was and wasn't working and how they could make it better. To ensure that each of his five cameramen understood the design of the film, Sutherland sent videotapes of the long, unbroken takes which captured the tension of the moment.

Sutherland also designed the sound of the films using as many as five radio microphones, which enables him to bring the audience breathtakingly close to his characters. The radio mikes allow the viewers to hear the characters breathing, sighing, groaning, and praying. When one of his camermen took ill, Sutherland turned the camera over to soundman Byron Smith and engineered the sound himself for what became the opening scene. Original music for the film was composed by legendary guitarist Reeves Gabrels, who records with artists David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, The Cure, and Public Enemy, among others.

Sutherland's love of farming began in the 1960's when he spent much of a year doing irrigation on a French-speaking kibbutz in Israel. He was invited to become a member, but his wanderlust was too powerful to resist. Back in the United States in the early 1970's Sutherland settled in Montana and supported his young family by selling agricultural tires by telephone, spending long hours talking to farmers and ranchers across the country. It wasn't until much later in the 1990's when he was in northern California making "Out of Sight," a film about a blind cowgirl, that he rediscovered his love of the land and decided that his next film would have something to do with farming. "I like a social issue backdrop for my portraits, and I like to do people out of sync with society. The Ford Foundation has discontinued Family Farmers as a category for funding, like they were extinct, and I thought, a dinosaur, now there's something I can relate to," says Sutherland. "With the median age of farmers in America being fifty-seven, young farmers were rare. I decided to make a film about a struggling young farm family who had been farming at least 1,000 acres for ten years or more. I was interested in capturing the battle to hold on to a dream."

He showed "Out of Sight" to farmers at the annual meeting of the National Family Farm Coalition in Minnesota. He forged friendships with many farm groups who put put him in touch with farm families that he would meet and move in with for a few days to decide whether they could be the subjects of his portrait. In 1994, Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska suggested he speak with Juanita Buschkoetter. When Sutherland spoke to her on the phone, he recalls, "I instantly knew this was the person I wanted. She spoke from her heart, and her love for her husband Darrel's dream touched me deeply."

Paying his first visit to the Buschkoetter’s Nebraska farm, Sutherland found himself taken with Lawrence, a town seemingly frozen in the 1950's. "They were about fifty miles from the nearest McDonald's, which is rare in America today. I went to visit them and wound up sleeping on their couch. The three little girls were very quiet -- it was like I had dropped in on them from Mars. At that point, they had never been to a movie theater. It wasn't that they were 'hicks,' but Lawrence is very Old World. The other towns around there are different, more cosmopolitan. Lawrence is almost 100 percent Catholic, its residents almost exclusively of Czech, German, and Bohemian descent, and the social life of the town revolved around the church."

Over the next few months, during several trips to Lawrence, Sutherland and his wife Nancy, got to know the Buschkoetters, and Juanita and Darrel got to know them. Sutherland shows Juanita and Darrel his portrait films to give them and appreciation of the level of intimacy and candor he was interested in capturing.

"When we were asked to do this film, I didn't want anything to do with it," says Juanita. "At first I thought it was ... a lot of invasion of privacy, but the more I thought about it, we didn't have a whole lot of privacy left anyway. After we had loan officers at the FHA, it seemed like every aspect of our life was looked at and judged by loan officers."

Looking back on the experience Juanita says: "If we could ever help somebody else out by showing them what we've gone through (with our marital problems) ... I want people to know that ... if we can make it, they can make it."

In "The Farmer's Wife," as in all his portrait films, Sutherland tried to develop a relationship with his subjects based on commonality and trust. When David was Darrel's age, he had worked for twelve years in the family business. But the real connection was the fact that both the Sutherlands and the Buschkoetters are independents, working obsessively day and night with their spouses to do something they love. And they shared a deep devotion to their children. In the end, a deep bond of trust developed between filmmakers and subjects, and the result is abundantly evident on the screen.

"I knew the magic I had captured on film. I knew it when I was out in the field. The wild card is always how other people will respond to the subjects," recalls Sutherland. "In December of 1996, I was just back from Nebraska after a film shoot, and I did what I always do -- I brought my videotapes to the post-production house to make some dubs. By then, the people that worked there had watched hundreds of hours of raw footage of this family as part of their job. I mean these people see an enormous amount of videotape every week, but this family really came alive to them, and they were watching it like it was a soap opera. They took up a collection to buy Christmas presents for the Buschkoetter children. It wasn't a gesture of pity, they really cared about the family. I knew then that an audience would follow their story. I just didn't know how that story would end."

Awards & Press

Praise for "The Farmer's Wife"

"Filmmakers like Ken Burns and Bill Moyers talk a lot about 'the American character' but David Sutherland actually shows it to us in THE FARMER'S WIFE. In a league with Marcel Ophuls' great 1970's documentary THE SORRROW AND THE PITY, THE FARMER'S WIFE saves the very soul of the new television season and shows how good television can be when it's not all about commercialism and profit ... as good a documentary as has ever been made for television. It is documentary as social conscious and window on the American soul."

-David Zurawik, BALTIMORE SUN

"Sutherland lets the scenes percolate before pouring the cup of coffee. Editing is all about rhythm, and he understands that. But the rhythms in this show are not fast and snappy, but slow and natural."

-Chuck Braverman, IDA

"A great documentary."

-Robert Lioyd, LA TIMES

"FOUR STARS ... A coherent compelling story worthy of a classic novel."

-David Bianculli, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

"Quite possibly it will turn out to be the best program on television for the entire season. If you value your aesthetic, intellectual or emotional life, you simply cannot ignore THE FARMER'S WIFE ... You should know that THE FARMER'S WIFE is a strange documentary. Universal in its themes, yet sometimes unsettlingly intimate. Deeply psychological, yet political. Artfully constructed, though it's characters are guileless. Stunning to look at."


"The stuff of epic fiction: strong passionate protagonists with a shared dream; a series of seemingly insurmountable complications set against the grand themes of love, pride, freedom and the land; and, ultimately, love renewed and the dream realized."


"To let unexamined prejudices steer you away from this film would be to miss one of the extraordinary events of the decade. THE FARMER'S WIFE is a breathtaking piece of work, a harrowing intimate love story set against an unforgiving physical and cultural landscape."


"When the characters in a movie or book lodge in your mind and heart, stubbornly taking up residence without necessarily being invited, you know the artist responsible for them has done something very right ... it is Sutherland's patient unsentimental attention to detail that can alchemize the most ordinary-seeming moment into emotional gold."



"The Farmer’s Wife...aired as a 6.5 hour Frontline in 1998 (and again in 1999), securing some of the highest ratings ever on public television."


"What's riveting about THE FARMER'S WIFE is how quickly the emotional distance between viewer and subject vanishes ... we become virtual witnesses."


"FILMMAKER PRODUCES MASTERPIECE WITH FARMER'S WIFE ... a stunning epic ... the most absorbing documentary to air on public television since "The Civil War" raged in 1990 ... THE FARMER'S WIFE should be remembered as the shining hit of the 1998-2000-99 TV season -- on PBS, or any network."

-Monica Collins, BOSTON HERALD

"The most talked about event of public television's 1998-99 season."


"This intimate portrait of a young Nebraska farm family is more real, more emotional than any story Steven Boccho or David E. Kelley could concoct."


"The Buschkoetter's aren't household names, but they will be in September ... It's extraordinary television ... an emotionally engrossing portrait of a troubled relationship ... It's difficult to turn away. This is a story that should resonate as strongly on Canadian soil as it will across the US."


"Extraordinary ... As heart-wrenching and real a documentary as you'll ever see."


"Jessica Lange in COUNTRY, Sissy Spacek in THE RIVER, Sally Field, in PLACES IN THE HEART .. Juanita Buschkoetter puts them all in the shade. Buschkoetter is the real thing ... whose life is laid bare to stunningly dramatic effect."


"Not until [THE FARMER'S WIFE)]has any filmmaker probed so deeply into the heart of an American family with such gut-wrenching results. Sutherland's film ultimately gets to the truth about human relationships that surely will resonate through every household that tunes into THE FARMER'S WIFE."


"Viewers will share their triumphs ... The audience can't help become a sort of confidant and cheerleader as the Buschkoetters tell their story without narration amid rhythms of their daily life ... startlingly real and richly rewarding."


"A cinema verite feel that is arresting and alluring...provides more honest intimate drama that a month's worth of fictional fare."


"This is the ultimate in documentary filmmaking -- not the pseudo, chopped up projects that often pass as documentary work on commerical television ... THE FARMER'S WIFE is the antithesis of commercial television, offering a family you'll long remember."


"A provocative, painful, yet ultimately heartening piece likely to be analyzed and discussed for years to come."


"Heartland heartbreak and redemption..A mesmerizing intimate and profoundly inspiring look at an American family."


"THANK GOD for Juanita and Darrel Buschkoetter ... In this bizarre surreal and superficial world of television, we were desperately searching for something that truly does matter."



"THE FARMER'S WIFE is a love story ... there is no Hollywood gloss, just an expression of affection that's inspiring. This is real and refreshing television."


"Extraordinary ... after THE FARMER'S WIFE airs on PBS, the Buschkoetters could be household names, champions of the American farm and true-life symbols of what commitment to marriage and family really mean ... the Buschkoetter's story is so compelling, so well-told ... those six hours seem to fly by."

-Diane Eicher, DENVER POST

"She [Juanita] matures from a disappointed girl to optimistic woman in front of us, showing the grit that must be the final legacy of generations of American pioneer women."


"An exploration of a marriage, and an exploration of how a family's values can sustain it in the face of adversity."


"David Sutherland achieves with devastating intensity his goal of making viewers feel they are living in the family's skin."


"This couple's fight to hold on to their own American dream and to hold on to each other when that dream threatens to pull them apart ... it's much too engrossing to leave."


"A near-addicting television event ... in your-face, 100% authentic and shouldn't be missed."


"Epic and intimate."

-Matthew Gilbert, BOSTON GLOBE

"Viewers will be touched by the portrait of this down to earth couple who somehow survive and grow stronger."


"A poignant, detailed 6 1/2 hour portrait of farm life, marriage and small-town America."

-Alan Pergament, BUFFALO NEWS

"Addictive television."


"FOUR STARS ... Many filmmakers have tried to capture the heartland, but few have succeeded so eloquently as David Sutherland."


"THE FARMER'S WIFE lays out the crisis as well as the ebb and flow of everyday life, the anger and the love, the harsh words and the tight hugs."

-Judith Michaelson, LOS ANGELES TIMES

"THREE AND A HALF STARS ... Heart-wrenching portrait ... epic yet devastatingly intimate ... gets to an emotional truth about relationships in a way that is rare and resonant for television ... THE FARMER'S WIFE will make you give a damn."


"The most compelling television tonight will be on PBS in the riveting fly-on-the-wall documentary THE FARMER'S WIFE ... an inspirational tale that should not be missed."


"An inspirational love story."


"THE FARMER'S WIFE may be the single most heart-wrenching thing you'll see on TV this year."

-Scott D. Pierce, DESERT NEWS

"Sutherland's choice of this farm couple was exactly right and he does not betray their confidence in allowing him to film their lives."


"THE FARMER'S WIFE really is the epic story of an American family ... this is stirring viewing for those who want to understand their culture and themselves. But mostly because this is lots more entertaining than those 'entertainment' shows, trust me. (I've seen 'em both.)"

-Diane Werts, NEWSDAY

"Grade: A"


"A sort of prime time panopticon."


"A bravely open and honest piece, the scope of which is unlike anything seen by America audiences since PBS' revolutionary 1970 documentary, AN AMERICAN FAMILY."


"A sterling three-part documentary ... the best thing on TV tonight."


"A remarkable degree of intimacy."


"Thoroughly American documentary."


"Riveting...recalls the raw intimacy of the landmark PBS documentary, AN AMERICAN FAMILY"

-Gail Pennington, ST. LOUIS DISPATCH

"In variation, it's got intimate, in-your-face, up-your-nose elements like AN AMERICAN FAMILY, about the dysfunctional Louds of Santa Barbara, Jim Carey feature THE TRUMAN SHOW, politcal satire THE WAR ROOM, and Albert Brooks' REAL LIFE. The star is Juanita ... she's ultimately triumphant ... The veteran Sutherlands have accomplished a likewise triumphant film."


"Intense, heartbreaking and beautifully produced."


"'The Farmer's Wife' on PBS is the week's best soap opera...it makes for addictive television."


"[`The Farmer's Wife'] is masterful...an extraordinary documentary."

-Aaron Barnhart, KANSAS CITY STAR


"Although the essentials of The Farmer's Wife - plotwise, pointwise - could be communicated not ineffectively in the space of a Dateline segment, director David Sutherland has bigger fields to plow; he wants to demonstrate eternal verities and complicated undercurrents, to illuminate the rough course of True Love. If scenes go on longer than they "need" to, if dead air is left to hang, if we keep coming back to where we've been before, it's all meant to make the experience less like TV and more like the movie you live yourself. To create the familiarity that breeds not contempt - not just contempt, anyway - but compassion."

- Robert Lloyd, LA Weekly


"From Deep in the Heartland: A struggling Nebraska farm family profiled in a PBS documentary gets an outpouring of viewers' support--and unexpected celebrity."



Special Achievement Award of Excellence, National Council on Family Relations, 1999

Joady Award, 1999

Golden Gate Award, Certificate of Merit, San Francisco International FilmFestival, 1999

Television Critics Association

The Television Critics Association nominated the Farmer's Wife for awards in the following categories:

    Program of the Year:
    "Everybody Loves Raymond" (CBS) "The Farmer's Wife": Frontline (PBS) "NYPD Blue" (ABC), "The Practice" (ABC), "The Sopranos" (HBO), "Sports Night" (ABC)

    Miniseries & Specials:
    "Alice in Wonderland" (NBC), "The Farmer's Wife": Frontline (PBS), "Horatio Hornblower" (A&E), "Joan of Arc" (CBS), "Shot Through the Heart" (HBO)

    News & Information:
    "60 Minutes" (CBS), "The American Experience" (PBS), "The Century" (ABC/History Channel), "The Cold War" (CNN), "The Farmer's Wife": Frontline (PBS)

SBS Television (Australia) Rebroadcast

Due to unprecedented popular demand, SBS rescreened The Farmer's Wife, this time in 6 one-hour episodes, June 2000

Related Links
Letters from Viewers

Viewers respond to The Farmer's Wife

We received over 30,000 emails from viewers in response to The Farmer's Wife. We want to thank you for all of your kind words and support. We have published some of your letters here to share your insights on the film and on life with others.

-- David and Nancy Sutherland


Dear Darrell & Juanita,

It has been five days since you left our Living room. I feel like my closest friends have just moved away. It has also taken me 5 days to pull myself together to write this to you. First, Thank you. I watched the previews for "The Farmer's Wife" on PBS and marked it on my calender. My interest was that I grew up on a dairy farm that my father inherited from his father. I still have that life in me, even though I do not live there. I watched my parents go through hell and back to keep "the farm" going. Your life was a flashback to my childhood (20 years ago).

What I got from watching 6+ hours of "The Farmer's Wife" was more than I could have ever hoped for. I will not bore you with all the details. In brief, my husband of 11 years and I had, at the best of times, a rocky marriage. We basically stayed together for the kids. We never talked, touched and at some points,cared. Then we saw the pain through other people - You.

Wednesday night we sat up until 1:30 am talking. Then the next day we talked again. (Not just hi, pass the catsup and I'm going to bed). We actually shed tears, and opend our hearts up to each other. Something we have not done in years. We thank you more than you know. Thank you for taking the courage to show your private life to America and most of all, Thank you for being honest. You forced us to be honest with each other. After hundreds of dollars into failed marriage help, you and PBS were the ones who broke into our souls. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!! I wish you the very best and hope your life is touched in some way, as you have touched ours.

Dear Mr. Sutherland,

I frankly do not know where to begin...I finished watching part 3 of The Farmer Wife last night and sat there after turning off the television for three quarters of an hour before moving, before making a sound...before realizing that what I had just watched was the most compelling story, and presentation of a story, I have ever witnessed. I feel as if I have lived with Darrel and Juanita.

My Grandfather was a Family Farmer in Indiana. He died when I was 12 and his kids sold everything. He was a man very much like Darrel Buschkoetter. An America hero. I loved working with him in the summers.

Thank you for thinking of this documentary, acting on an idea, and completed the project despite the obstacles. I am reborn in the American way of life and the honored values that make us the great country we are. Thank you so very much Mr. Sutherland...Thank You!

Dear Mr. Sutherland,

First of all, thank you so much for an inspiring, heroic film "The Farmer's Wife". I'm 26, an Art Director working in the Silicon Valley for an internet company. I can't say how much this film has affected me. It really hit the deepest of my emotions. Life these days has made me desentisized to the troubles and hardships of others. It takes a film like yours to really put me back into humanity. With films, and the media constantly bombarding my living room with hyped-up stories, seeing your film has really made me get in touch with my love for people. From here on I can look back in this film to guide me through perils in my life regarding work and relationships.

If I could send a greeting to Mr. BUSCHKOETTERS and his family: "Darryl, you are my newfound hero. Your work ethics, perseverance and morals have changed my life. I have never admired anyone as much as I admire you. You have surpassed rock stars, politicians, sports stars or any tycoon status that I might have admired in the past. Thank you for letting us into your lives. I have some thinking to do. (I just watched the movie 10 minutes ago). From here on I will keep you and your family in mind. I will always pay attention to the issues regarding the farmers of America. I can't thank you enough, and I wish you the best of luck in the future. My deepest regards to Juanita, and your beautiful daughters."

Dear Darrell & Juanita,

Thank you for sharing your story. I was idly watching television when I happened upon your film. I watched out of vague interest at first, but then became caught up in your story. The courage, determination and strength kept me watching.

I am an African-American single mother. I am faced with adversity every day. Different from yours, but just as compelling. Belief in your dreams, and determination are characteristics that we ALL need to make it in this world. I ached for Juanita when she had to get into her car and drive to your creditors to talk with them about extending your agreement.

I was so moved... but I was also kind of proud... that this woman, this mother, took that on and did it with class and a not-to be-denied, but very polite force. And all for the future of the family and a way of life that you all hold so dear. May your blessings continue. I wish your family much luck, and much love and happiness.

P.S.: Juanita, I think you look really pretty with your hair longer. And I will be following your lead this Halloween in putting together a small party for my daughter and friends.