If you thought Food, Inc. or Fresh or The Future of Food or Farmageddon were amazing, be prepared to have your socks knocked off by The Biggest Little Farm. This documentary is hands down the most joyful, moving, and compassionate look at what it takes for a small, family farm to make it in the world of sustainable agriculture.
It follows a young couple, John and Molly Chester, from the moment they decide to abandon their day jobs and take up farming through the next 8 years of their life. The documentary was conceived, narrated, and filmed by John Chester. He won an Emmy as a wildlife filmaker, and it shows!
This film is stunningly beautiful to watch.
It doesn’t feel like a documentary. There are no talking heads giving you bullet points and soundbites of scary information. There’s no farm being threatened by the government or a giant corporation, struggling to stay afloat.
It feels like a well-crafted story. There’s a plot — a beginning, a middle, and an end. It feels like the Chesters want to do an impossible thing, and you travel with them through the highs and lows, successes and setbacks of creating a self-sustaining farm. Eventually, you reach the end, the moment when you realize with a sigh of relief that they’d actually managed to turn the decrepit old farm into something ecologically balanced, self-sustaining, and downright gorgeous.
Alongside the overarching narrative, adorable visually-told subplots about the animals elevate the film beyond a simple documentary. Imagine watching a lone sheep sleeping in sunny field, suddenly awoken by the sound of the farmer and dogs calling the sheep home. It bolts upright, a little confused, then races after it’s friends and family in a panic, bleating the whole way. Too slow, it gets left behind. Just as your heart begins to feel sorry for the lazy sunbathing sheep, a cow along the path catches the sheep’s eye. He slows his hurried trot and saunters over to the cow. They humorously greet each other, and suddenly you’re laughing at the antics of farm animals.
These little visually-told animal stories? They’re the heart and soul of this film. They keep you charmed. They keep you invested. They make you care about the tiny microcosms and minutiae of farm life. And, according to John Chester himself, they are the reason this documentary exists.
You see, although he’d “given up” his career as a director of wildlife films to become a farmer, he’d been invited to create a series of three short films for Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Shorts — Saving Emma, Worry for Maggie, and The Orphan. And who says no to Oprah? He used his farm animals as the subjects and even won an Emmy for The Orphan.
When he realized that “a wide grouping of audience was interested in these animal stories,” Chester decided to expand them into what would become The Biggest Little Farm. “I got eight years to figure how to tell the story and anthropomorphize the animals in ways that didn’t discredit the great biological story,” he said. “There is a real farm here.” (source)
Be prepared to fall in love. And experience joy.
Chester didn’t want to make a standard documentary. He purposefully crafted this story the way he wanted to, at his own expense, without investors telling him what would make for better marketing.
The result? A joyful and charming look at a way of farming — a way of seeing the world — that has the potential to change the future.
“Most documentary films about any farm or environment are fear-based,” Chester said. “The enemy is a human corporation or greed. The victim is always the planet. And at the end the audience leaves feeling fear or despair or depression, their eyes are more tight, not more wide. I wanted to show there’s something different going on, there’s an incredible experience that awaits us if we fall in love with it. That will be the cure. We won’t let what we love die if we understand it in a deeper way that connects to us like a parent for a child with potential, who we won’t give up on. Fear does not get you through that; love does.”(source)
Quite frankly, its all a bit awe inducing.