Two terrific documentaries open next week. “The Biggest Little Farm” opens May 9 at the Landmark Theatre in West L.A. featuring a Q&As with the filmmakers/farmers during opening weekend. And “General Magic” opens at Laemmle’s Music Hall Theatre in Beverly Hills on May 10. Their subject matter couldn’t be more different, but both are about idealistic visionaries and how — and whether — those dreams become reality.
THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM
I’m not sure I’ve ever loved a movie as much as I do “The Biggest Little Farm.” If you’ve ever bought produce from Apricot Lane Farms at a Farmers Market, you’re already familiar with this paradisaical biodynamic farm based in Moorpark.
John and Molly Chester lived in a tiny Santa Monica apartment, but when John, a documentary film maker and wildlife cinematographer, covered a dog hoarding operation (200 animals in horrific conditions), he fell for one very special dog and adopted him. Molly had been a private chef who’d dreamed of having a farm of her own to grow the specialty fruits and veggies she loved to cook for her farm-to-table cuisine.
Todd the dog was the perfect companion and thrived with them, but his barking when they weren’t home caused their landlord to evict them. Todd became the impetus they needed to buy a farm. They wanted to live a purpose-driven life, with a dream to create an ecologically balanced environment for an orchard, market crops and livestock that would work in harmony with nature, respecting the wildlife in their midst.
But his is no fairy tale; it’s a warts-and-all story that makes those with fantasies of “getting back to the land” understand the harsh realities that farmers face, especially those with such purist dreams.
The film opens with last year’s Woolsey Fire surrounding their farm, and then we move back chronologically, from the dream, to the house parties and crowdsourcing funding, to finding investors, to the purchase of the land, and facing the reality of how dead their soil was and not knowing how to fix it. Five owners before them had failed.
But the arc of this film is about the process of learning the heartbreak and joy of living your dream, especially with nature as your partner — and sometimes your enemy. Their consultant Alan York guided them through the years-long steps for building healthy soil, the source of all life on the farm. An expert in biodynamic principles, he understood how natural systems work together to repair themselves. Today’s farm stands as testament to his memory.
This is a gorgeously shot movie and a wonderful story; it will make you want to find more meaning and purpose in your own life. You might cry but you will definitely rejoice when it’s over. You might even discover more respect for the interconnectedness of all life.
I just want to share one sidebar: Todd spent some time with my friends, Julie and Jan Strnad, who have a dogsitting service. Walking with Todd on day, another little dog followed close behind and was enamored of Todd. He followed Todd into their backyard, and now Buddy has been part of their family for the past 7 years. They still thank Todd for that.
Jan, who went to see the film just for the chance to see Todd again, wrote this: “Turns out the movie is friggin’ GREAT. It’s as good as any nature documentary I’ve seen with the added drama and humor of human beings trying desperately to meld a working farm into the natural ecology of a desolated location, where five owners have given up trying to eke out a living, where the pond is dry and the earth dead. It’s more than a study in perseverance, though. Adversity and success intertwine as the ecology develops, and we see it step by step, creating a world that is our own marvelous Earth in microcosm.”
On opening weekend, there will be Q&As with John and Molly. Get tickets now; this is a movie to remember forever. https://www.landmarktheatres.com/los-angeles/the-landmark/film-info/the-biggest-little-farm.
Long before there were cell phones, there was General Magic, a company that attracted the most innovative and creative hardware and software engineers to Silicon Valley envisioning a digital future that was very much ahead of its time. The story of its rise and fall is both cautionary and inspiring.
The big stories about Silicon Valley focus on the big bucks that big ideas can generate and the overnight billionaires they create. This film stands for the idealism of ideas, the devotion of those who try to bring them to life, and the way that businesses, even those with the very best ideas and people, can fail but live on in unanticipated ways.
The company developed the precursors to USBs, modems, touchscreens, email, streaming TV, e-commerce, the operating systems for personal digital assistant devices and networked games. Originally a spin off from Apple, General Magic attracted the best, the brightest, but also some erratic software engineers. When investors demanded to see the products, they fell short. Their ideas were co-opted by others. But without them, there wouldn’t be an iPhone or the other hand-held devices that are indispensable to us today.
Tickets for “General Magic” will be available here: www.laemmle.com/index.php/films/45675.
Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.