The Biggest Little Farm
Updated: Feb 8, 2020
John and Molly Chester had a happy life in Santa Monica. He is a documentary filmmaker, she is a chef. They had always talked about owning a farm so, after they got evicted from their apartment because their beloved dog would not stop barking whenever they were not home, they decided to actually do it. They bought a 240+ acre farm in Moorpark, California and set out to create a traditional farm through a lot of drama and hard work. Their story is told in the sometimes informative, sometimes breathtaking, always endearing documentary The Biggest Little Farm (John serves as director, co-writer, producer, director of photography and narrator).
The early portion rushes past their decision to undertake this massive project, uprooting their lives to focus entirely on being farmers. It glosses over how they found it, how they could afford it and how they even knew where to begin. Some of those details could have been very enlightening, though this is about their new reality, not how they got to it. Things really pick up when they get to the farm, hire an old-school farming expert and start putting a plan in motion. The fascinating parts of this story come not from the people, but from all the obstacles Mother Nature throws at them. They design their farm so it will exist as one with nature, bringing with it difficulties they could not anticipate. They also purchase a lot of plants and animals, which generate their own complications, both practical and emotional.
The best sections involve their attempts to solve various issues around the farm. For instance, their struggles in taking care of a pregnant, then sick, pig or the challenges in dealing with the coyotes that keep eating their chickens. The way these problems are resolved and then lead to brand new problems is completely captivating. The natural world is full of wonders. The Biggest Little Farm (89 minutes without the end credits) captures some amazing ones.
The filmmaking style most closely approximates that of a home movie. There is no sense John is trying to make this more cinematic. Their journey speaks for itself. Well, visually anyway. His narration tends to be overly literal. Seeing what happens is generally more effective than hearing it described. He occasionally gets a little too cute for his own good, however he certainly does impart some valuable information. The only other storytelling technique is animation summing up the action in an intentionally simplistic way. It can be amusing, especially in the early going. Thankfully, it is used less once things get serious. The point of the overall approach is to show what they saw and how they dealt with it. That ends up being pretty successful.
One of the truly incredible things about the movies is its ability to let us see lives we will never live. I am never going to become one with nature and live on a farm. The Biggest Little Farm allows me the chance to experience it through someone else’s eyes. It is educational, oddly thought-provoking and quite entertaining. I recommend giving it a visit.
3¾ out of 5
Directed by John Chester
Written by John Chester and Mark Monroe