With cities and urbanization rapidly expanding across the globe, life on a farm feels as quaint as ever. As Americans, we move from the country into the cities in search of bigger and better things. Yet every once in a while, there are stories of people choosing a life in the country instead. In “The Biggest Little Farm,” director John Chester and his wife Molly Chester did just that. Along the way, their story of taming barren land and turning it into a lush paradise creates a hopeful story. The surprisingly emotional documentary stands a chance to be one of the best of the year.
The Chesters’ story began when John was filming a dog hoarder’s house. With over 200 dogs in residence, many improperly cared for, one gravitated his way. After John laid eyes on Todd, he knew he was bringing this dog home. However, when John and Molly were threatened with eviction, it forced them to chose between Todd and the city. Molly always dreamed of starting a natural farm, and their love for the dog pushed them to chase their dreams. Soon, a decade-long journey began.
At the heart of “The Biggest Little Farm” is a story of a family struggling to make their dream work. With each step forward, John and Molly seem to take two back. Their advisor, Alan York, seems positive they are taking the right steps, but John rightly shows skepticism at times. To devote so much time and effort in a project, one that will be necessary for your family’s livelihood, failure cannot be an option. John and Molly’s narration sells that tone and helps the audience buy into the Chesters’ struggles. They are charming, funny, and believe in their mission. This grounds the story in an emotional and vibrant heartbeat.
The stories that revolve around the animals work extremely well to endear you to the creatures. In some cases, you’ll laugh at the antics of pigs, dogs, and chickens. Other moments will make you tear up and cry. The editing pieces together tension throughout the story, and puts you in the Chester’s shoes. You feel their anxiety and worry around the farm, as well as the self-doubt that took over. Yet these moments make the highs of “The Biggest Little Farm” soar.
The cinematography from John Chester creates a plethora of beautiful images. With footage that would belong in the best of nature documentaries, he captures a busy world on the farm. The ecosystem the Chesters built, the very point of their venture, thrives with diverse wildlife. He makes a wise choice to often shoot from the eye level of the animals. This effect gives us the perspective of the farm in ways we would not imagine, and again, ties us to the creatures that inhabit the world.
“The Biggest Little Farm” works as a stand up and cheer documentary. The audience can feel encouraged that we can create a world of co-existence. Oddly, it speaks to our political climate in a profound way. More importantly, it provides hope that we can reverse the course when it comes to environmental change. It reminds us the process may be long, but the fruits, both literal and figurative, are worth it. This makes “The Biggest Little Farm” one of the most enjoyable and meaningful documentaries of 2019.