Whether it’s epic works of ephemeral land art or locavore dinners in farmland and wilder nature, for Outstanding in the Field founder Jim Denevan everything worth doing is about being present and responsive to the pulse of the place where you’re doing it. Though Denevan’s two-part vocation might seem counterintuitive at first, the thoughtful and thorough new documentary Man in the Field (now in VOD wide release) carefully illustrates there is one overarching dynamic at work in everything he does — site-specificity.
As Man in the Field: The Life and Art of Jim Denevan slowly builds toward the emotional reveal of the deep roots of his inspiration in a volatile and sometimes painful childhood, and the artwork and pursuit of peace that grew out of it, audiences move back and forth between the twinned aspects of his practice. Ultimately, the filmmakers end up at a place where the vectors of art and food are unified and finally understood as expressions of the same fundamental desire — to share with others the profound, organic joy of direct collaboration with forces of nature in creative acts.
The film’s director Patrick Trefz followed Denevan’s “restaurant without walls” for almost a decade, along with the correlative of awe-inspiring rogue and commissioned artworks. Denevan’s large-scale drawings in sand, ice, and earth are never meant to last. He makes them at the edge of tide-washed beaches, in locations exposed and vulnerable to the elements. A small lone figure against a vast stretch of sandy beach, he enacts walking mediations that leave crop-circle-like geometric patterns behind, responsively placed to the contours of the land, and always imminently returned to that land, sometimes in mere moments that follow hours of gentle labor.
Meanwhile, his food project Outstanding in the Field is known for inverting the farm-to-table dynamic and instead “bringing the table to the farm.” Denevan travels the world in search of partners and places to stage innovative bread-breaking gatherings. Since 1999, he and his international network of farmers and local chefs have hosted long tables for up to 1000 dining guests set in vineyards, beaches, meadows, fishing docks, and city streets in all 50 states and 16 countries. In some of the most exciting of these stagings, he has been able to combine the land-art with the menu, further enhancing the magic and mystique of the setting with the analog alchemy of his visual art.
Over the course of this beautiful and unexpectedly emotional film, we see how Denevan views both his relationship to the elements of the landscape and his approach to growing and sharing food — not to mention his perhaps unexpected further gifts of music and evocative spoken word — as one and the same. As much as it’s about healing trauma from the earth, from his past, from all our pasts, it’s also and more so about the healing power of fully being in the world and cherishing the beauty in the present moment.
For more information and how to watch, visit: outstandinginthefield.com