You reap what you sow

Percy gives insight into complexities of farming and patent rights

Christopher Walken in a scene from Percy

Supplied photo

Manitoba farms account for 12.3 per cent of Canada’s agricultural area. Canola is the main field crop in the province, making Percy arguably one of the most fitting movies for Manitoba’s agricultural community. 

Percy, filmed in Canada, the United States and India, is set to be released in theatres on Oct. 9. Directed by Clark Johnson, the film is set in Bruno, Sask. in 1997. 

Based on a true story, it stars Christopher Walken as Percy Schmeiser, a small-town Saskatchewan farmer who becomes embroiled in a legal battle with the agricultural corporation Monsanto over the use of their genetically modified canola. Their legal battle eventually makes its way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Unbeknownst to Schmeiser, the genetically modified crops have done well and integrated with his own crops. However, after reaping the harvest that year, Schmeiser receives an unexpected seed in the mail: a request from Monsanto to pay a technology fee for using their crops without a license.

As the story unfolds, Schmeiser risks his fortune and reputation to fight against Monsanto. One of the most seemingly innocent characters in the film is Rebecca Salcau (Christina Ricci). Salcau is introduced as a loving environmentalist who seems genuinely invested in helping the Schmeisers, but over time, hidden motives surface, and her integrity is questioned as she begins to put publicity and fundraising before the well-being of the Schmeisers.

Johnson gives some insight into some of the main characters’ developments in the film.

In situations like Salcau’s, “the question always comes up, ‘does the end justify the means?’” he says.

“Whatever the cause and the (supporting) non-profit organization are, you have to gather the money to be effective. Her main challenge was that she ended up connecting personally with the family, which was a struggle. The big picture was that they had to stop Monsanto and their hoard of lawyers, and that was the task, and sometimes there is collateral damage. She says it in the film that even if Percy does not win, he is going to champion their cause and help them move forward with our endeavours.”

As the film progresses, Percy gained attention while fundraising for his cause, which ultimately leads to him travelling and speaking at an agricultural convention in India. During his speech, one of the film’s most powerful moments happens: Percy, who is normally independent and strong-willed, is brought to a moment of anxiety and worry as he faces some of the world’s leading agricultural spokespeople. Facing the different emotions of the crowd, he takes a step back, gathers his thoughts and approaches the mic to deliver a message to reaffirm the audience to band together to fight against Monsanto.

“In that moment, we wanted to remind the audience that this guy had never set out to come to India to speak to this huge group filled with energy and opinions, and some of the world’s leading scholars on agriculture,” Johnson says.

“It was a little overwhelming, but that was that moment for him to rise to the occasion and to become the Percy Schmeiser that took it to the Supreme Court of Canada.”

Percy opens Oct. 9 at Landmark Cinemas 8 Grant Park and Cineplex Odeon McGillivray Cinemas and VIP.

Published in Volume 75, Number 05 of The Uniter (October 8, 2020)

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