Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Movie Review: The Biggest Little Farm

The Biggest Little Farm ** ½ / *****
Directed by: John Chester.
Written by: John Chester and Mark Monroe.
The Biggest Little Farm is a beautiful documentary to look at. Almost all of it takes place on a 240-acre farm in California – one that the owners – director John Chester, and his wife Molly- rehabilitated, and took back to the land itself over the years they’ve owned it. They want to have biodiversity – a farm that lives in harmony with nature, which sounds really good until coyotes eat your chickens, or birds eat your fruit, or snails eat your citrus trees, etc. John was a nature cameraman before buying the farm – and making this movie – and he knows how to frame a shot, how to capture the animals and trees at their prettiest, to make everything look shiny and happy.
To be honest, it’s all a little too much to take – a little too much to take seriously. We are led to believe that the Chester’s bought this farm, and did all of this, because they adopted a dog named Todd (it is a beautiful dog) – who would bark all day when they weren’t around, which eventually led to them getting evicted from their apartment. So, of course, they bought a farm, moved Todd to it, stocked it with all sorts of crops and animals, hired a staff, etc. Why not?
That all probably sounds cynical – and admittedly it is – but it is something that did eat at me a little bit as I watched the movie. I felt that what Chester – who also narrates the film – was giving the audience was the fairy tale version of this story, not the real one. I’m not so cynical to say that the whole movie was made to promote their farm – but I’m cynical enough to say that if Chester were to make a promotional film about their farm, it wouldn’t look a whole lot different than this film.
Still, the film is beautiful to look at, and you’d have to have a heart made of stony to not respond to some of it – whether it’s that dog Todd, or Emma the Pig, or Mr. Greasy the Chicken, etc. The film isn’t all sunshine and roses – it does document the difficult decisions that have to be made. Does John kill the coyote who keeps killing his chicken – if the farm is supposed to mimic real nature, he shouldn’t. But otherwise, he won’t be able to keep raising chickens. When does he do when a mother sheep dies, leaving behind a hungry, lonely baby. What about drought, or too much rain, or California wildfires, etc. The movie puts a sunny face on all this – but only after some struggle.
I find now that I don’t have much to say about The Biggest Little Farm. It is a documentary film – and it is probably more or less accurate to what the Chesters went through, even if it’s seen through rose colored glasses. But it also feels like a story more than anything else – a romanticization of farming and getting back to earth, that is probably way more complicated than it was made to seem here. And I wish it was more honest – or at least straight forward – than that. I’d like to know just how much money it cost to get it up and running, and how long it took them to turn a profit, etc. What we end up getting is something you would show to primary school students to get them to learn about farming and biodiversity. And on that level, it’s fine. I just wish it were deeper.

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