The Biggest Little Farm

The Biggest Little Farm ★★★

When documentarian John Chester and his wife Molly bought an abandoned, 200-acre farm in California with the intention of working and harvesting the land as part of a natural ecosystem, Chester also kept a video diary of sorts of their efforts. You can feel the ungainly attempts to force that material into tidy little narratives—the symbolic weight put on the couple’s dog, Todd; the illness of Emma the pig; the threatening wildfire the movie opens with and then doesn’t return to until the anti-climactic ending—but there’s no denying that the images Chester captures, from close-ups of invasive snails to drone shots capturing the geometric patterns of their land, are stunning. And their story raises compelling questions: how big can a farm get before it’s no longer “natural”? What role should coyotes be allowed to play in such an ecosystem? Are humans inherently invasive? Given the infomercial feel of The Biggest Little Farm, perhaps it would have been better if an outside documentarian had come in to explore these queries, with the Chesters as subjects rather than storytellers.