There is always a moment in every food documentary where the documentarian visit an organic farm, gathers shots of free-range chickens, roaming pigs, happy bovine, and talks to the farmer. The farmer is almost always bearded, wearing old clothes free of sports teams or corporate branding, and often alone. These farmers are allotted two or three sentences about how they feel connected to their farm, their animals, a better way of life, and how the choice they made has resulted in hard but rewarding work. The documentary then cuts to shots of cattle factories, impossibly crowded chicken coops, and million-dollar tractors combining endless fields of wheat. The desired result is clear: farming, or organic farming, is beneficial to not only those who consume food but those who produce it.
Peter and the Farm has a different story to tell. Though the documentary starts with the usually bearded farmer (Peter Dunning) calling his sheep, explaining how he grows his crops and going through his daily chores—including the lengthy process of killing, skinning, and dressing a sheep—it shows the human beneath. Peter is a real person whose labor is hard, and life is full of loss. The ex-Marine suffers from alcoholism, which costs him his family and constantly places him on the precipice of suicide. He seems like the last person who should be left alone, but this is the life he has chosen—one he cannot bear to leave.
Peter and the Farm is a fantastic documentary the lets the camera roll as long as necessary to understand Peter. This isn’t a quick sentence or two lines about why organic is better, but a harrowing yet somewhat uplifting portrait of a man who manages to find a way to survive one day at a time. The nights may be dark, but the sunrises sure are beautiful.
Peter and the Farm (2016)
Directed by Tony Stone
Produced by Andrew Adair, Melissa Auf der Maur, Jake Perlin, Tony Stone
Starring Peter Dunning
Magnolia Pictures, Unrated, Running time 91 minutes, Opened November 4, 2016.