Rising at dawn to milk the cows. Watching pigs root around in dirt. Listening to cute baby goats bleating while they munch on grass. Grabbing a shotgun to dispose of the coyotes terrorizing your chicken coop. Yes, farming can be romantic, but the reality of creating your own complex, self-sustaining ecosystem is not.
That’s the closest thing to myth-busting you’ll get from “The Biggest Little Farm,” the latest project from producer Laurie David. Thirteen years ago, she gave us “An Inconvenient Truth,” with its flow charts and heavy-handed appeals to science. The nasal intonations of former Vice President Al Gore were the righteous cherry on top.
This time, you won’t hear the words “climate change” at all. Policy and legislation barely make a cameo.
According to filmmaker John Chester, that’s why the movie is embraced by a wide spectrum of viewers, from religious conservatives (who latch on to the film’s “back to the land” vibe) to liberal environmentalists (who see it as a model for sustainable agriculture).
Chester’s approach was no accident.
“So this story is to me, it’s a nonpolarizing love letter to the human force of nature,” he says. “Look what’s caring for us, look at the potential to exist with it. It’s not idealistic, it’s real.”
Still, even if Chester didn’t set out to make a political film, that’s exactly what he did. His underlying message is that our connection to the earth is endangered by climate change, whether he calls it that or not.
While Chester is happy to let the film speak for itself, David has no problem throwing a little 2020 into the mix. The longtime Democratic Party activist and donor says her first job is to get people into the theaters. Her next job is to get people to the polls.
“A lot of docs bang you over the head with the issues, and this one doesn’t do that,” says David. “But the more people that see this movie, the more people are going to be moved by it. And then hopefully … people make the environment a voting issue. We are in this crisis of global warming. We have to elect officials that care about solving this.”
The film centers around Chester and his wife, Molly, a private chef who’s always dreamed of starting a farm. After a confrontation with their landlord over their rescue dog, Todd, the couple leave their tiny Santa Monica apartment and decide to go for it.
For a 90-minute movie about farming, where you are literally watching grass grow, it moves at a pretty brisk pace. That’s because John and Molly are constantly confronted with obstacles to overcome, whether it’s coyote attacks, a feverish mama pig, or the unexpected illness of a friend. The couple are also compelling characters in their own right. They tell a seductive story of giving up everyday life and making a huge leap of faith (with the help of a private investor) to fulfill a longtime dream.
Over the course of eight years, that idealism bumps up against reality, which makes for a fascinating conflict.
It was the “slow disillusionment of honest intent,” John says at particularly trying moment during the film. “Intent alone is not a protector.”
“The Biggest Little Farm” is playing at Landmark E Street Cinema through May 30.
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