Graduates harvest success through food and family in ‘Dryland’

When machines that once harvested wheat come crashing together in Lind’s annual Combine Demolition Derby, few would realize that it’s an event that keeps a small town thriving.

“Dryland” is a documentary film about the derby that tells the story of farmers in Eastern Washington’s small community of Lind, outlining the journeys of two young men during the past 10 years.

Josh Knodel and best friend Matt Miller, the main subjects of the film, are WSU graduates and seasoned combine drivers in the derby. In the film, viewers see how the men fight to win the demolition derby and keep the legacy of their families’ farms.

“The amazing tenacity and optimism that farmers have is what they need to have to continue with agriculture,” said Sue Arbuthnot, a supporter of the film. “We really want to be able to share that message of optimism and perseverance.”

Arbuthnot and Richard Wilhelm, another supporter of the film, create documentaries through Hare in the Gate Productions, based in Portland, Ore. Their general topics include Native American history and the work of world-renowned artists. This film was a change of pace for them.

In 2003, Arbuthnot and Wilhelm met Knodel and Miller at the demolition derby in Lind and interviewed them to hear their story. They learned about Knodel’s and Miller’s families, the community, and the deeper meaning behind the combine derby, Arbuthnot said.

Inspired, they began the 10-year journey to making “Dryland” with the Knodel’s and Miller’s families.

“It’s a great introduction for people who don’t know about family farms,” Miller said.

The film focuses on the derby’s part in supporting the community and the two families’ active fight to maintain their way of life.

The demolition derby itself is rich in history. Started in 1978 by the Lind Lions Club, the event attracts people from all across the country and raises money to support the town.

Drivers use old combines no longer used in the fields and follow guidelines and safety procedures before going into the arena.

“They’re not very dangerous,” Miller said. “We’ve only had one driver hurt in the 26 years.”

Miller and Knodel rebuild their combine, JAWS, every year for the derby.

Perseverance of rural towns is a main theme of the film, and an underlying theme is how advanced technologies have decreased the need for human labor.

During the 10-year timespan, Arbuthnot and Wilhelm worked with the families to record important events, conduct interviews, and keep records of the Knodel’s and Miller’s lives. The filmmakers recorded events such as Miller’s high school graduation and Knodel’s graduation from WSU, and interviewed other family members to gain insight on recent events.

“It’s interesting when you go back to see where you started and where you ended up,” Miller said. “But it was uncomfortable to have a camera on you all the time.”

Today, Knodel and Miller are members of the Lind Lions Club and are organizing the next Combine Demolition Derby. “Dryland” will have its world premiere at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Mont., on Saturday. More information and a trailer can be found at