The Moo Man: Sundance Review
Sundance Film Festival, World Documentary Competition
Director-Director of photography:
Andy Heathcote watches and learns on a tiny U.K. dairy farm.
PARK CITY — A 97-minute vacation to a dairy farm in Southern England, Andy Heathcote's The Moo Man finds a trio of farmers struggling to survive in a country where, we're told, around half of family farms have gone under in the last ten years. Uneventful but blessed with a truly winning protagonist, the film will charm fest auds and fits well with back-to-basics food trends.
A kind of modest, stationary cousin to 2010's more sweeping sheepherding film Sweetgrass, Moo Man is almost entirely observational, hanging out on the farm and watching cows. Steve Hook, who with his dad runs Hook & Son, tends a herd too small to interest most commercial farmers; but at under 100 head, Hook is able to have a feel for each cow's personality. While most dairy cows have a six-year life expectancy, Steve's typically live to nine or ten, and some -- like 12 year-old "Queen of the herd" Ida -- come to feel like pets.
With milk-spattered coveralls and a ring of hair around a mostly bald head, Hook looks like an agricultural Jackson Pollock. But the resemblance stops there: Anything but intense, Hook is at ease with animals that move at their own speed; he may play tug of war with a cow who doesn't want to get in a trailer or use mind games to get a herd moving, but we never see him lose his patience.
We do see him help deliver many calves, wrapping rope around the little hooves and pulling for agonizing minutes. Unlike his peers, he doesn't kill the male babies, instead raising them for beef. But milk is Hook's livelihood: While he laments late in the film that his supermarket sales pay seven pence a liter below cost -- he's "running a loss and living off [government] benefit," he says -- Hook & Son has started selling raw, unpasteurized milk at farmers' markets and hopes this boutique business will keep the business afloat.
We piece this scene together through snippets of talk while Hook attends to business around the farm, since Heathcote never asks anyone to sit for an interview. The closest we get to a conventional talking-head shot is when we watch Hook at his desk, calling to arrange pickup for a well-loved animal that has died. If we've seen hints of the quiet man's soft heart already, as he's spent days attending to animals already too badly injured to be profitable, his feeling for the herd is confirmed here. There won't be a locavore in the theater who doesn't pray for this farm's long-term success.
Production Company: Trufflepig Films
Director-Director of photography: Andy Heathcote
Producers: Andy Heathcote, Heike Bachelier
Music: Stephen Daltry
Editor: Heike Bachelier
Sales: Andrew Herwitz, The Film Sales Company
No rating, 97 minutes