The Biggest Little Farm

 

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A crowd-pleasing documentary with a marked tone of its own.

 
The Biggest Little Farm
 

Uniquely in my reviewing career the rating above is one that ignores the strong reservations that I felt when watching this film. The reason for this lies in the fact that I regard my personal response as being entirely a matter of taste. John Chester's film is totally consistent in tone and style throughout and The Biggest Little Farm has been warmly received so far both by critics and by general audiences. That being so, I will explain here why it didn't appeal to me while also indicating why those who warm to its manner are likely to applaud it.

 

John Chester is an American who is both a farmer and a filmmaker and The Biggest Little Farm is an account of how he and his wife, Molly, uprooted themselves some eight or more years ago to begin a new life in Moorpark, California. Their aim was not just to farm but to build up over the years the kind of farm that would be built on diversification, a process that would in time bring the barren soil back to life and create a place truly in harmony with nature and all its processes.

 

Filmed over eight years, Chester's offering charts an endeavour which has an obvious potential appeal to viewers. But so did the modest British film The Moo Man made by Andy Heathcote in 2013 and it is that film, a study of a dairy farm in Sussex, which, with its unforced warmth and subtlety of approach, represents for me my own ideal for this kind of work. In this film we have what by comparison is a banal and over-insistent music score, but my lack of enthusiasm stems from such more than that. The Biggest Little Farm is narrated in frequent voice-overs by John Chester, together with contributions from Molly, and what he has to say sets up a determinedly bright mood. That being the case, it comes as something of a shock when in the third year of their venture their adviser and mentor Alan York, an expert on diversification, dies. Indeed, there are other downbeat incidents too - the impact of a drought and of coyotes attacking farm birds, for example. Nevertheless, that positive tone, akin to that of a proselytiser, soon re-emerges. This particular portrayal of the reawakening of the planet's ecosystem is celebrated with an almost religious awe and for many this may well be felt inspiring.

 

This is a film which unfolds in flashback in order to stoke up some extra drama by hinting at disaster ahead and which also incorporates animation in a rather twee style. At the same time Chester is a man who aspires to thoughts about the delicate dance of existence, as he puts it, and at the close we are assured that "we were never alone, not for a second". But, if all of this puts me off, the fact is that it appeals to many, and this film is all of a piece. I have sought to make it clear why I was irked by the manner adopted but only so that individual readers can decide for themselves whether or not my response is likely to be theirs. After all, the welcome that the film has been given so widely is evidence that many will indeed relish it.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring John Chester, Molly Chester, Alan York, Matthew Pilachoski.

 

Dir John Chester, Pro John Chester and Sandra Keats, Screenplay John Chester and Mark Monroe, Ph John Chester and others, Ed Amy Overbeck, Music Jeff Beal, Animation Jason Carpenter.

 

Diamond Docs/FarmLore Films-Parkland Entertainment.
91 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 29 November 2019. Cert. PG.