THE STORY – A couple are followed through their successes and failures as they work to develop a sustainable farm on 200 acres outside of Los Angeles.
THE CAST – John Chester & Molly Chester
THE TEAM – John Chester (Director/Writer) & Mark Monroe (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 92 Minutes
By Christopher Cross
Trying to run a farm is one daunting task, but what makes the subjects of “The Biggest Little Farm” so unenviable in their position is the sheer ambition of their project. Instead of just trying to run a farm, John and Molly Chester attempt to create a fully sustainable, biodiverse farm. The journey to make that happen is what takes this documentary from a personal struggle to an analysis of our own Earth and the importance of being patient and attentive in life. With plenty of ups and downs to chronicle, this is an intimate look at the ways our actions cause reactions in the world.
When John and Molly decide to start their own farm, they enlist the help of Alan York as a consultant on their journey to creating a fully sustainable patch of land with Apricot Lane Farms. With a lot of farms around them focused on growing a handful of crops or resources, it is more than ambitious what the Chesters are about to undertake as they bring in virtually every type of livestock and grow more than enough fruits to foster their own natural habitat. But creating an ecosystem is not as simple as “If you build it, they will come” and “The Biggest Little Farm” examines what humanity’s role is in the cultivation of natural life.
There’s a certain level of playing God that John and Molly face as they contend with the natural progression of introducing more and more life into a space. One of the largest plot points involves a coyote getting into the farm at night and naturally hunting down the chickens that are roosting there. Waking up every morning they find corpses upon corpses of chickens. What stands out in the documentary is the constant debates of how much human interference a farm as diverse as Apricot Lane should have. A coyote killing off chickens could completely ruin the livelihood of the farm, but as an ecosystem, there is an assumption that everything will balance out without intervention. This conundrum stands at the epicenter of “The Biggest Little Farm” and is what gives the film more of its tension and timeliness – especially with environmental issues in the news on a regular basis, including the recent forest fires in California.
The equilibrium is captured through a balance of close-ups on nature at work and an abundance of narration over footage of the team on Apricot Lane Farms hard at work. If there’s a fault in the way the film is presented, it’s mostly in the use of narration from director and star, John Chester. Sometimes it’s flat sounding as if to be objective in some respect, or it’s written in a way that makes it sound ominous. A lot of times when their consultant, Alan, is brought up their skepticism comes off like they’re foreshadowing a reason to be worried as opposed to it purely being skepticism. So at times, tension exists because a threat feels present when it’s only there due to how the lines are delivered.
There’s also a plotline involving John and Molly’s pet dog that never really feels impactful or even necessary. It’s a tacked on personal tale that is slightly heartwarming but also relatively inconsequential to the grand scheme of the film. For it to be where this story begins is fine, but it doesn’t ever carry the weight that the narrator implies it should. A lot of “The Biggest Little Farm’s” faults are found in how it’s presented, but more in its decision to try and make a movie told chronologically have some sort of reason for beginning where it does. Everything moves forward at a fairly decent clip and there’s never a dull moment. But that doesn’t mean there’s significance in every beat of the story, no matter how endlessly fascinating the nature of their endeavor may be.
All in all, “The Biggest Little Farm” is an inspirational documentary about the role of humanity in the world. Equal parts heart-warming and depressing, it finds the happy equilibrium that is crucial to creating both tension and joy. It will be difficult not to be invested in the success of Apricot Lane Farms, especially when seeing how all the mechanics work together. It feels like a small miracle to see such a wide array of nature interacting with each other, but to know that a fully sustainable farm like this can exist brings a little bit of hope in an environment constantly unraveling from human interaction. Watching John and Molly play God and realize the place humans have in nature is why “The Biggest Little Farm” is more than just a documentary about a successful farm – it’s a statement on our role in helping the planet live on for future generations.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Utilizes a personal endeavor to showcase humanity’s place in the Earth’s ecosystem.
THE BAD – Narration undermines the film’s impact due to varying quality and odd ways people are discussed throughout the film.