Tuesday, October 29, 2019

DOC NYC Shortlist Spotlight: The Biggest Little Farm

In advance of DOC NYC 2019, which begins November 4th, I’m making my way through some of the contenders on the annual Features Shortlist, which selects the films likeliest to contend for the Oscar for Best Documentary.

The Biggest Little Farm
Directed by John Chester
DOC NYC Screenings

There’s a big difference between the city and the country, and, often, people have trouble reconciling the two. Moving from a cramped downtown apartment to a spacious house in the suburbs is a more natural step, but there are some who decide to go much further, abandoning their urban existences to try the truly rural, living away from industry and developing a relationship with nature. That adjustment can be jarring, and expecting a smooth transition to a perfectly durable and sustainable sense of normalcy is foolish since that’s almost never the case.

John and Molly Chester find their lives in Los Angeles uprooted when their dog Todd’s frequent and uncontrollable barking results in an eviction notice from their small apartment. Realizing that this isn’t the way they want to continue, John and Molly make a bold decision: to relocate to a 200-acre farm, determined to build a sprawling operation populated by countless different animals. Their ambitions are halted when they begin to understand the facts on the ground, namely the unsuitability of much of what they want to grow and the drought affecting the region, and wonder constantly whether they’ve made a tremendous mistake as they make slow progress over the course of eight long years.

This documentary is structured in a way that puts audiences in the place of its two leads, following their big dreams when they seem so far away and unimaginable to the places where they confront harsh realities about what’s truly possible with what they have. It’s an endearing and very enjoyable journey, one filled with colorful animations to conceptualize the visions they have, which contrasts greatly with the obstacles they have to contend with once they are educated about what they need to do in order to get one step closer to the ideas they’ve formed. It’s easy to get swept along with the excitement of their plans.

There is a very positive emphasis on the communal effort that must go into building and maintaining a farm like this, stressing the involvement of the animals and the people whose presence and expertise is crucial to ensuring a successful operation. The way in which this story is presented and framed makes a subject that made not seem inherently interesting to all audiences truly engaging, inviting audiences to stand on the sidelines and cheer these people on as they invest everything they have into achieving something truly remarkable with absolutely no guarantee of success.


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