More documentaries from this year’s Montclair Film Festival, starting with the best one that I saw.
The Biggest Little Farm
I used to take a commuter train into New York City everyday and then hook up with a light rail or a subway until I eventually got to work. Sometimes I’d sit on those trains and wonder what I was doing. I’d come home and float out the idea of giving it up and starting a vegetable farm.
That is about what John and Molly Chester did. They traded in their Santa Monica apartment and bought a farm north of Los Angeles with spent soil the consistency of cement. Their vision was a farm based on traditional farming methods. Molly found a sort of natural farming guru online and based on his guidance, they ignored the fact that almost all the neighboring farms had gone to single crop. Instead their theme was diversity. So they planted dozens of different kinds of stone fruit trees, starting raising chickens and filled the farmland with other animals.
What was not part of their vision, and certainly not part of my musings about retiring to a farm, was shoveling shit, cleaning the carnage in the chicken coop after a midnight raid by a coyote and watching swarms of starlings eat all of their fruit. In fact, having watched this, I realized that I probably was better off fighting the progressive deterioration of the New York metropolitan area’s public transportation infrastructure.
This movie is so much more interesting than the description (or my review) would suggest. The story is told with a healthy dose of humor and many scenes are truly heartwarming. There is, for example, the story of Greasy, an outcast rooster, who decides to co-habitate with Emma the pig. It was in fact a rescued dog that started the whole story. John had rescued a dog from a hoarder. Todd was a great dog, but with one bad habit. When John and Molly were out, he barked incessantly. That led to an eviction notice. They decided to keep Todd and instead dumped the urban lifestyle.
This is a movie in which the good guys win. There is also a message in the story. It is about the power of nature to work everything out for the better….as long as we let it.
A rust belt tale. GM closes a plant in Dayton, Ohio. A few years later and a Chinese company buys it and reopens as an auto glass manufacturing plant.
How’s it working out? One woman tells us she made $29 an hour working for GM. She now makes $12 an hour. Another says she lost her house to foreclosure and moved into her sisters’ basement. A man says he makes $13,000 a year less than his daughter who does nails.
The cultural divide between the Chinese workers and supervisors who are brought to Dayton and the Ohio workforce seems completely irreconcilable. The Chinese see the American worker as slow, inefficient and accustomed to the cushy life of eight hour days and weekends off. We see a Chinese supervisor bemoaning the fact that Americans can’t be forced to work overtime. Another plant manager counsels a group of supervisors by pointing out that Americans overindulge their children and thus they all grow up to be over-confident.
Nowhere is the cultural clash more apparent than when a group of the Fuyao employees from Ohio are flown to China to see how the plant runs there. Among the things they get to see are young Chinese women is some sort of traditional get-up singing songs about teamwork and efficiency, homage to the glory of Fuyao. Yeah, that’ll work here.
This is a movie that documents a lost life style. Millions and millions of Americans worked in factories at secure union jobs for wages that enabled them to buy a home, raise a family and send their kids to college. That’s history. But the people who lived it are still alive and, as with so many other things in America, want to turn the clock back. If you think that’s going to happen, watch this movie.
Consider that the city of Dayton or the state of Ohio undoubtedly kicked in millions of dollars in tax breaks to lure this company to Ohio and bring jobs back to the area. Now that they’re there, the focus is on automating the production tasks to eliminate those very jobs.
This is a movie about a couple of dogs. Not the kind of animated talking dogs that you find at the matinees at the highway movieplexes. This is about Football and Chola, a couple of mutts who live in a public park, Los Reyes skating park, in Santiago, Chile. Being that it’s a skating park, they share the space mostly with teenagers. Apparently the filmmakers originally intended to shoot the skateboarders, but found a more compelling story.
Living in a public park doesn’t stop these two from getting in 16 hours or so of sleep a day. They pick up a stray soccer ball or tennis ball for amusement. Mostly tennis balls. They play a big part in this movie. And like many dogs Football and Chola invent games to engage the humans around them. Here, they roll the tennis balls with their snouts down into the skateboarding pit. Then they bark until one of the kids picks up the ball and throws it back out. You know what happens next, right?
Being as these are not cinematic talking dogs, the film’s only dialogue comes from the teenagers. It’s not that insightful. Mostly they complain about their mothers and talk about drugs. There’s the occasional thought of getting a job instead of skating all day and night and a couple of the more entrepreneurial sorts talk about making cannabis edibles once it’s legal.
Some may think of stray dogs and stray teenagers as a problem. Not here. Everyone co-exists in peace. I just wish they hadn’t shown so many intense close-ups of the flies crawling on the dogs.