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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Biggest Little Farm is a poignant, multi-year-spanning documentary about Southern California filmmaker John Chester (an Emmy-winning documentarian) and his wife, personal chef Molly Chester, who embark on a journey to go back to the land and run a traditional farm. With help from an expert mentor and a team of both experienced and new-to-farming staffers, the Chesters deal with the ups and downs of starting an organic, biodynamic farm just an hour north of Los Angeles on a 200-acre plot that was initially parched earth. While there's no sex, language, or substance use, you can expect several potentially upsetting scenes of dead animals, including some blood left on the predators. Animals also die due to environmental reasons and giving birth, and John is shown loading a gun and chasing a coyote. A beloved dog dies after several years, a human friend's death from cancer is discussed, and there's wildfire-related fear. Families will have lots to discuss after the film, from the importance of eating locally, supporting farmers, and understanding how farms work to character strengths like teamwork and perseverance.
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What's the story?
THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM is filmmaker John Chester's love letter to his wife Molly and their joint vision to live a life of purpose -- all thanks to a dog they rescued. John, a cameraman and documentarian, and Molly, a private chef, bring their rescue dog Todd to their tiny Santa Monica apartment. But because of his incessant barking, the landlord evicts them. This prompts the Chesters to fulfill a shared dream of living a rural life on a fully self-sustainable farm. So, after writing a business plan and sharing their vision far and wide, they find enough investors to embark on their journey. John and Molly enlist help from biodynamic farm expert/mentor/guru Alan York, who mentors and designs the entire farm for them, making sure they understand the importance of biodiversity -- from the animals they raise to the microorganisms in the soil to the 75 varieties of fruit trees they plant. John, who narrates the film, films over seven years; the documentary begins with the panic of the 2018 wildfire and then rewinds to share the year-by-year ups and downs of facing and overcoming challenge after challenge.
Is it any good?
This powerful, deeply personal documentary is both a memoir and an exploration of the Chesters' quest to make their dream of living on a fully sustainable farm come true. John and Molly are fascinating subjects. Even though they don't seem to know much about farming (although she's an avid gardener), they somehow convince investors to loan them substantial amounts of money to finance their dream. (The specific hows and whys of their budget are never discussed, which is a tiny bit disappointing, considering how open they are about most aspects of their early days.) Daunted by the task of turning their dry, desolate property into a thriving farm, the couple receives nearly magical amounts of mentorship from the enigmatic York, who seems to have all the answers all the time about their vision for Apricot Lane Farms. He's a fantastic character, and it's very sad when tragedy strikes fairly early in his time with the Chesters.
It's difficult not to feel fully invested in John and Molly's vision, even though they make it clear that other, more established farmers think they're setting themselves up for failure. John's narration and cinematography are excellent, and audiences will keenly feel each of the couple's various setbacks, whether it's coyotes attacking their egg-laying hens, slugs rotting their trees, birds eating their fruit, or Emma the pig nearly dying after a furious case of mastitis. Viewers will also feel attached to some of the Chesters' animals, from dog Todd and sow Emma to two Great Pyrenees livestock guard dogs and the kooky rooster who's Emma's companion. Based on York's advice, the Chesters want everything from the microorganisms in the soil to the predators and prey on the land to be in harmony. But that balance takes them and their team -- which includes far more experienced foremen and a group of young adult volunteers -- several years to accomplish. One small quibble is that the film doesn't go into details about the WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) program that provides the Chesters with free live-in labor in exchange for room and board (that's why so much of their team looks under 30). Still, this is a wonderful, beautifully shot labor of love that should inspire viewers to commit to lives of purpose that serve the earth and others.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the messages in The Biggest Little Farm. Are the Chesters inspiring? Does the documentary make you want to be more mindful about food and farming?
How did it make you feel to see dead animals on the farm? Why are those scenes necessary to the story?
- In theaters: May 10, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: August 20, 2019
- Cast: John Chester, Molly Chester
- Director: John Chester
- Studios: Neon, LD Entertainment
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Horses and Farm Animals
- Character Strengths: Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 91 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: mild thematic elements and brief language
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
- Last updated: May 14, 2020
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