'Hanna Ranch': Film Review

Hanna Ranch Jay Film Still - H 2014
Zachary Armstrong/Listen Productions

Hanna Ranch Jay Film Still - H 2014

This moving documentary lends a very human face to its powerful environmental message.

Mitch Dickman's documentary recounts the tragic story of famed "eco-cowboy" rancher Kirk Hanna.

If you’ve read Eric Schlosser’s groundbreaking book Fast Food Nation you’re already familiar with the subject of Hanna Ranch. He’s Kirk Hanna, a Colorado rancher who was dubbed the “eco-cowboy” for his advocacy of holistic farming methods that put him at odds with both his fellow cattlemen and members of his own family. The charismatic Hanna -- who became renowned for his revolutionary ideas and was widely considered a future candidate for governor of Colorado -- eventually suffered professional and personal setbacks that led him to take his own life in 1998 at the age of 43. His story is movingly recounted in Mitch Dickman’s documentary, which fairly begs for big screen Hollywood treatment.

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Schlosser, one of the film’s producers, is among the many talking heads featured in the film, which details Hanna’s goal of practicing holistic farming practices. Deeply immersed in the issue of land conservation, he called for such methods as natural fertilizer, the use of goats for weed control and the rotation of grazing land. His visionary thinking led many of his fellow members of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association to consider him a turncoat.

Frequently compared to Tom Selleck because of his rugged good looks, thick mustache and ever-present 10-gallon hat, Hanna had a troubled personal life. His father and sister were killed in a car accident when he was young, and his mother’s remarriage to a nearby rancher resulted in enough family drama to fill a season of Dallas. He later came into conflict with his brother Steve, who disdained his environmentally correct ranching methods and was instead in favor of selling off the land to developers.

The film details Hanna’s myriad crises, including his bouts with depression and paranoia, via extensive interviews with friends, neighbors and, most movingly, family members, including his half-brother Jay, with whom he was very close, and his widow, Ann. She still lives on the ranch, which gives the film its name.

“I was married here; my kids were born here; my husband is buried here. I can’t imagine anywhere else to live,” she declares towards the end of this deeply affecting, elegiac portrait.

Opens May 16 (Listen Productions)

Director: Mitch Dickman

Producers: Mitch Dickman, Karl Kister, Eric Schlosser

Director of photography: Zachary Armstrong

Editors: Zachary Armstrong, Davis Coombe

Composers: Jeffrey Wentworth Stevens, Joe Kersey Sampson, Corey Ryan, Wentworth Kersey