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The Grange Fair - An American Tradition - documentary DVD review
Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 4 stars
Director: Joe Myers   Distributor: Inecom Entertainment
DVD release: 19 February 2008   Runtime: 86 min. (1 disc)
DVD Features: Audio tracks (English, Stereo), Subtitles (English)

I don't care for fairs. Anyone who knows me can tell you so. I've never been involved in agriculture, gardening, raising animals or the devouring of funnel cakes. I could kill any plant just by trying to make it live. I've got no beef with those who can't get enough of the fair, but it's not my thing.

Having said that, let me introduce you to The Grange Fair: An American Tradition, a touching film that makes the fair seem attractive to even me. The Grange Fair is, we're told, the oldest and perhaps only agricultural encampment fair in the US. It began in 1874 in Centre County, Pennsylvania, and features the usual fair fare, plus nearly 1,000 Civil War-style tents that house whole families for nine days.

Some of the tent sites have been passed down for six generations. While the film shows us why these people are so passionate about the fair, but the film itself seems almost incidental. It's the people themselves who grab us by the ears and show us their world. Ruth Reiber Wolf has attended the fair every year since she was born in 1916. She says there's not a day goes by that she doesn't think about it. She is famous for her black walnut cookies. Things look dark for her this year as her health is threatening to make her miss for the first time. Ruth is the heart of this film.

We meet several children who raise animals to show at the fair - a young girl who raises cattle and a pair of boys who raise chickens and ducks. Old and young love the fair, and their year revolves around it. Betsy Forsyth decorates her tent every year for the annual contest. She starts early and works on it up until the judges are making their rounds. Martha Deitrich produces a wealth of produce and cans it, cooks it, arranges it, and manipulates it in every way possible into preserves, pies, and baskets of veggies to be judged for the fair. So much time and effort is put into the Grange Fair every year, and I can't imagine it's different anywhere else in the world, save the 1000 or so tents.

That brings me to another thing I greatly dislike. Camping. Making a film that combines these two things seems like it'd be unappealing to me, but it's not. I quite enjoyed The Grange Fair. I get all the tradition and joy that these people derive from the fair without all the crowds and bugs and things I dislike. Well done.
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reviewed by Eric Renshaw
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