The Williams Lake Film Club is thrilled to begin the new season with a screening of the award-winning documentary, The Biggest Little Farm, on Sept. 27 at the Gibraltar Room.
This inspired first-person documentary focuses on the nearly decade-long journey of John and Molly Chester to build a regenerative, biodynamic farm on the outskirts of Los Angeles. At the outset, John and Molly are a happily married couple – John, who directed this film, is an Emmy award-winning nature cinematographer, who has worked for NatGeo, while Molly is a private chef and culinary blogger with an intense passion for farm to table cuisine.
Things are going along well enough until they adopt Todd, a rescue dog who won’t stop barking. After being evicted from their Santa Monica apartment, rather than find another urban dwelling, the couple venture forth on their tentative dream to build an “old school” farm.
With the help of investors, many of whom were family and friends, the couple is able to purchase a foreclosed 200-acre lemon tree orchard 40 miles north of Los Angeles – which they name Apricot Lane Farms. After years of mono-farming or mono-cropping (planting the same crop each year in order to grow food cheaply), the soil was left barren, arid, and stripped of nutrients.
As John put it, “it was a bankrupt piece of land.” In search of direction, the couple hires farming guru, Alan York, whose vision of regenerative or biodynamic farming ultimately guides the Chesters over the course of the film.
“Diversify, diversify, diversify,” chants York. His concept, which will take years of complex hard work to achieve, involves creating an internal ecosystem on the farm. In the pursuit of this vision, the Chester’s bring in a bunch of animals – including pigs, sheep, cattle, and chickens – to produce manure, which is critical to enriching the depleted soil. They also plant cover crops, a garden, an orchard with 75 varieties of stone fruit, and restore wildlife habitat.
But there is drama and lots of it. As they begin to produce fruit, snails, gophers, starlings and maggots invade, their chickens are terrorized nightly by coyotes, and periods of drought threaten the entire operation. Nonetheless, the Chesters stick to the vision, and for every obstacle, they work with nature to formulate a solution – for instance, ducks are brought in to eat the snails, and coyotes are redirected to the gopher problem.
As John describes it in an interview with Vox, “I wanted a raw, unflinchingly honest look at the range of emotions and events that go along with this life on the farm. In one day, you can experience something heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, and discouraging. Then a few minutes later, you can see something miraculous happen within the farms’ ecosystem that inspires you and makes you feel like you could never do anything but this. I wanted the audience to go on that journey.”
The Biggest Little Farm is stunning and absorbing to watch, thanks to the outstanding wildlife photography and cinematography of John Chester, who mixes in footage from home movies, macro-photography, animation, and night vision shots. Although the film deals with cycles of life and death, and the complexity of life, it has mainstream family appeal. Chester notes that it was important for him to make a film that kids could identify with. As he says in the MDCoastDispatch, “I made this film for adults, but I also made this film for seven-year-olds.”
This is a film brimming with hope for the future and offers an alternative vision to the large-scale industrialized, chemically dependent mono-farming so prevalent right now in the world. As the Movie Nation review puts it, it’s “…an informative, inspiring film, joyous in its intimacy, fraught in its various crises, one filled with love, adorable critters, challenges, tragedy and triumph…if you’re looking for proof that our ecosystem can survive pretty much anything we humans throw at it – a reason to believe that the planet’s scar tissue might not be 100 per cent irreversible – this movie is like 91 minutes of the best kind of church. It’s truly food for the soul.”
Tickets cost $12 for general admission and $10 for students and seniors. Advance tickets are for sale at the Open Book or may be purchased at the door. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the show begins at 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 27.