A splendid commercial — as opposed to argument — for small-scale biodiversity as an effective operative principle for a family farm in Southern California. (Translation: although farming necessarily involves imposition on the natural world, the closer you get to being just one more strand in the ecological web, the better.) It’s great to look at; director John Chester (who co-stars with his wife Molly) is a nature photographer from way back, and it shows. And there are moments both thrilling (the approach of the fires, the war on the snails) and heartwarming (the unlikely friendship between an ugly pig and an uglier rooster, et alia). But what there isn’t is any sense of risk to go along with all the rewards that come from rejecting modern industrial agriculture. No sense of the cost that comes when the birds eat your fruit and the gophers eat your roots and the snails eat your leaves and the coyotes eat your chickens while you search for sustainable solutions. The Chesters have investors, you see, and so what they’re doing seems more experiment than exemplar: a chance to see what’s possible when you don’t have to be entirely practical. A chance to seek meaning as well as money. And as far as that goes, it works, as both farm and film. (2018) — Matthew Lickona
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