Wildlife documentarian John Chester, his wife Molly and dog Todd up sticks from their Santa Monica apartment to grow an organic farm from the ground up in rural California. Under the watchful eye of whacky biodynamic consultant Alan York, the family ride the ups and downs of agricultural life.
A self-made ecological paradise is an attractive fantasy in today’s digitally consumed Western world. You can fully appreciate the wholesome appeal of Emmy-winning filmmaker John and Molly Chester’s sun-soaked adventure, which saw them turn bad luck (Todd’s nervous barking led to them being evicted) into the motivation to pursue their dreams and build a farm, in spite of their complete lack of agricultural experience.
With York proving as much a spiritual guide as an expert in the field, the team tentatively set to work populating their new land with plants and animals. Twee animated segments are deployed in the film’s opening chapters to help guide the Chester’s journey, a tool that is sensibly ditched as the farm begins to come alive. Sub-narratives begin to sprout as the capsule ecosystem expands — Emma the pregnant pig births a hefty litter of piglets, coyotes ravage the chicken pen in a Game Of Thrones-worthy massacre. The daily dramas play out on screen but also on the increasingly lined face of John, who is undeniably weighed down by the responsibilities of managing life and death in the small world that he has created.
Some patches of the Chesters’ aspirational story however are left untouched — the project was invested in by friends initially but money is otherwise barely mentioned —calling into question just how attainable this self-starting venture is if you’re not considerably well off.
It’s a striking piece of filmmaking nonetheless – Chester’s eye for natural splendour allows for some startlingly crisp shots of the farm’s many characters (although this is perhaps low hanging fruit for the Emmy-winning documentarian). Those curious as to what escaping the grind for rural life looks like may find this enchanting, just don’t expect the financial reality to encroach upon the Chesters’ success story.
The gentle rhythm of this timely, environmentally conscious documentary will temporarily draw you away from the world of tiny screens into a partially ambiguous yet fulfilling tale of endurance.