When John and Molly Chester fled the big city with the impulsive dream of creating a self-sustaining farm, they knew they were taking on an immense task, but nothing could prepare them for the practical ins and outs of chasing away coyotes and serving as midwives for pigs. Some problems work themselves out (like ducks snacking on invasive snails), but most of them required a bit more ingenuity. Chronicling their eight-year journey in attempting to maintain a regenerative utopia in Moorpark, California, The Biggest Little Farm is a crowd-pleasing, back-to-nature tale of the triumph of will and perseverance, sure to charm even the most cynical of viewers with its heartwarming, autobiographical testament to the power of elbow grease.
Unlike many environmental docs, The Biggest Little Farm keeps its story firmly rooted in both humanity and hope. Rather than forcing a doom and gloom sermon on its audience, the inspirational film offers up small-scale solutions, and even makes them feel oddly accessible. We follow the Chesters in the reevaluation of their ecological impact, but it isn’t based entirely in blind idealism. The would-be farmers constantly find themselves in over their head, with little more than a series of trial and error experiments to help them pick up the secrets of the trade. As such, the documentary becomes an embodiment of the American dream, as unforeseen obstacles are overcome with homegrown ingenuity and just the right amount of blind luck. Before long, the enterprise becomes an honest-to-goodness business, with a hefty expansion in both land and staff, resulting in an all-out ecosystem including everything from ducks to bees to several dozen different varieties of stone fruit.
With its childlike illustrations and jangly guitar score, The Biggest Little Farm can feel overly cutesy at times, but what elevates it above the bulk of its fellow feel-good documentaries are its handsome visuals. John Chester may not have known the first thing about farming before embarking on this wide-eyed adventure, but, thankfully for us, his background is in cinematography, and it truly pays off here. From sweeping overhead drone shots to covert night vision cams, he continuously captures radiant footage of critters of all ilks in their natural habitat. The film’s most dextrous use of visual storytelling lies in how immersive it manages to be. We aren’t simply watching from a distance; we’re getting our hands dirty as well, plowing through the soil and even winding up on the business end of a pig birth.
The Biggest Little Farm is a welcome burst of positivity. John and Molly Chester have found a way of altering their footprint to make their little slice of paradise all that much more inhabitable. They may not be able to rid the world of all of its ecological woes (such as man-made climate change or the raging California wildfires that open the doc), but if just a handful of us follow their motivational example, who knows? The point is The Biggest Little Farm leaves its viewers with the genuine feeling that they might be able to make a difference, and maybe that’s what we need to get the ball rolling in saving the planet.