Like a cross between ‘Microcosmos’ and an origin story for Old MacDonald, this wonderful doc is possibly the most joyous 90 minutes you’ll spend in a cinema this year. Life, death, rebirth, growth and the possibility of a cross-species friendship between a pig and a rooster: it’s all here in a film that feels simultaneously cosmic, elemental and personal. Best of all, it’ll leave you feeling oddly hopeful for the planet.
The premise is simple: filmmaker John Chester and his wife Molly, tired of the rat race, bought 200 acres of derelict California farmland and set to work converting it into a biodynamic farm with hundreds of crops and no pesticides. Chester recorded what followed over an eight-year period. The wrinkle? Well, everything. From the poultry-hungry coyotes to a drought and a biblical snail infestation. Their dream – and the film – soon becomes about rolling with nature’s punches.
And that’s what makes it special, because without sugar-coating the crueller aspects of the natural world (one lambing scene is pure nightmare fuel), ‘The Biggest Little Farm’ is a hymn to resilience – of people and the natural world. It wears its message lightly, indicting industrial farming and the agents of climate change tacitly rather than directly. It might have played out like a ‘Portlandia’ sketch – privileged urban types discovering organic chickens – but there’s not a hint of smugness here, just a refreshing humility in the face of nature’s grace and ingenuity.