Elena Heatherwick’s documentaries on the West Yorkshire rhubarb triangle will make your day

Together the films comprise a wealth of perspective and first-person narrative on the area’s forced rhubarb production, shining a light on the farmers and wider community. The Rhubarb Triangle is the triangular area of land between Morley, Wakefield and Rothwell where farmers have been growing rhubarb since the mid 19th century. The first film in the series, The Rhubarb Triangleopens with a salient shot of the sky, before Elena’s lens quickly turns to a farmer at work, discussing the decline of the trade in the area – from over 200 growers 50 years ago to roughly 10 at present day. And then we see a young girl tap dancing in her room; Elena makes it clear that understanding the triangle is about more than knowing the tricks of the trade, it’s about the many generations who have lived with it and built a life from it.

This people-first approach started last year when Elena and Angus visited Yorkshire to aid their research process. They began with a few days knocking on doors and conversing with the farmers over tea, before they were led to the Cooks, a family of growers who had recently revived their sheds. “This had been done by Jason Cook, a 24-year-old who is ‘the youngest grower in the rhubarb triangle’,” Elena tells us. Participating in the documentary came at a prime time for the Cooks as they were in the process of taking their rhubarb business commercial, so the documentary would also serve as exposure. “Something that feels integral to our approach to making films is that it benefits everyone involved”, Elena adds.

The second film, Ode to Rhubarb, takes on an unexpected spin with the Featherstone Male Voice Choir singing a rhubarb song “that they just casually wrote for us”, Elena shares. The couple first met the choir a few weeks before Christmas at Wakefield Cathedral where the men were singing. “During the interval we approached them and asked if they’d consider working with us on a song. Luck was on our side, because their talented conductor Edward Whelan jumped at the challenge,” she adds. Everything from beginning to end seemed to be destined, which made for a film that is wrapped up in the world that Elena wanted to create. Their rhubarb red jumpers and ties, and jaunty lyrics that lift the second film to an amusing watch – “put it in a crumble even marmalade and gin” the lyrics go. Here, a dynamic community is solidified, there’s no mistaking the pride that rhubarb evokes throughout the the triangle.

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