Student Critic Elizabeth Bowie reviews
The Biggest Little Farm
(John Chester, USA, 2018)
There is no doubt that sustainability is a hot topic. There is also no doubt that California is a hot place – indeed they recently experienced the worst drought there in 1200 years – the effects of which we are shown in John Chester's The Biggest Little Farm. Sewn together from footage spanning seven years, the documentary constructs a visual memoir of the farm, traditional yet biodiverse, created by the film-maker and his wife.
Chester's background in nature and wildlife photography enables him to form a cinematic framework from which a narrative sodden with heart hangs exquisitely: his camera is as inclusively conscious of clusters of beetle-infested fruit and owl-mutilated gophers, as it is of the lambs, ducklings and lovely flowers.
The Quentin Blake-esque opening-title animations could at first give rise to an impression of ensuing twee-ness. However, The Biggest Little Farm confidently straddles the emotional rollercoaster, not only of the unpredictability and harshness of farm life, but also of a couple endeavouring to build their bucolic and pastoral dream from – literally - the ground up. There is little pretention either to the couple or the film; rather an earnestness underpinned by an impressive grit that drives both their personal journey and the diegesis. The result is not only sentimental but informative, and suggests that perhaps the only sustainable future of farming may involve a return to the past.