Film Review: The Biggest Little Farm

I couldn’t wait to see The Biggest Little Farm but my expectations were low! Was this film going to be tainted by the usual stereotypes?  I was expecting a) a twee portrayal of farm life as idyllic (let’s face it, this is often prefaces stories of ‘we gave up everything to farm’) or b) the focus on sustainability to demonise farmers (much like recent media claims that conventional farming is unethical). Neither was true, as this documentary captured the highs and lows of farming in an inspiring fashion.

Sociologically, this film was interesting on many levels! This was mainly due to focus on the relationship between the farming couple and their animals and the divisions between types of animals on the farm such as pets, pests and livestock. The film starts with the couple’s realisation that they want to give their (pet) dog Todd a better life, rather than one subject to complaints from neighbours about his barking. From the start, this sets up Todd as a key member of the family, especially as we are shown a montage of his milestones which seems similar to one you might expect from the parents of a small child!

The couple buy a farm in California with the aim to harness organic farming methods which nurture the ecosystem. This means a tension arises between human intervention and nature. In particular, when coyotes start to destroy their flock of chickens, they try to stay true to this natural ethos by instating guard dogs to warn them off. In opposition to the other animals on the farm, the coyotes are viewed as pests for interrupting the productivity of the farm. We are constantly reminded of the struggle for agency in fighting the objectivity of illness, death or the weather as they wreak havoc on the land and livestock.

The stars of the show are Emma the sow and Mr Greasy the cockerel! Emma is faced with what might be likened to the human phenomenon of  ‘empty nest syndrome’. In her case it is not children, but piglets, who have grown up and started separate lives. As a result, farmer John moves Mr Greasy into the same pen and this unlikely pair forges a companionship which allows them to thrive. You get a real sense for the bond between farmers and farm animals, as shown by their affectionate naming, personalities and stories. In contrast to the pets and livestock, animals deemed vermin are distanced from the other characters through their anonymity; left without a name or history.

It is not the easiest to watch as strong visuals of animal death (by 'natural' causes) is a recurrent theme, but this gives the film its empathic edge and captures the realities of farming as shaped by the rhythms of life and loss.

The Biggest Little Farm is out now in UK cinemas. Have you seen it? What did you think?