t h e m o o m a n
12th July 2013
Andy Heathcote & Heike Bachelier
18th June 2013
I’m happy to come right out and declare my interest in The Moo Man. I did donate to the Kickstarter. Whether this is enough to prejudice my reviewing I’ll leave you to decide but suffice to say, given the size of my pledge, I’m not likely to be receiving any producing credits on this movie.
Arriving as it does with the ‘surprise Sundance hit’ tag but with little other information, I really had no idea what to expect here. Describing it to people as the movie with a cow in Eastbourne got me a few funny looks but we’ll pretty much watch anything here so watch we did.
And what an utter delight we found. The press release we received described the film as ‘the story of a farmer and his favourite cow, Ida.’ We sure it’s about a whole lot more than that. Filmed over four years out in East Sussex, this documentary follows the Hook & Son farm and specifically the Son – Steve. Steve it would appear, is not your average dairy farmer, the Hooks sell most of their milk direct and unpasteurized. That is, straight out of the cow and into the bottle. Well, out of the cow, into a barrel on the kitchen counter and hand poured into a bottle anyway. Steve has fifty or so cows and knows all of them by name. He takes one to the seaside, ostensibly for publicity but as the film goes on, you start to think maybe he just wanted to treat the cow to a nice day out.
You see, Steve is the absolute heart and soul of this movie. The camera rarely focuses on other people, we spend the entire time with Steve and the effect is magnetic, it’s impossible not to like this guy. Nothing is too much work for him, at one point he spends what appears to be most of the afternoon attempting to right a fallen cow with a paralyzed leg. Steve’s focus on the wellbeing of his herd is truly admirable and the lengths he goes to to keep them happy and healthy are supremely praiseworthy. The other main characters in the movie are of course the herd (though Steve’s wife does have a hilarious cameo through the bathroom door from her bath). The cows clearly have their own personalities and Steve knows all of them.
The movie also has some impressive standout moments. Steve’s lengthy battle to assist one of his cows give birth is almost physically exhausting to watch and mentally exhausting when having finally birthed the calf, he discovers that it’s a bull. But the most telling is the scene when Steve returns from the abattoir with his bull Kato. In large plastic bags. He fills his kitchen with the bags and we see him cutting up the chops. We next see him sat at the kitchen table, surrounded by bags full of beef, casually and happily reminiscing about Kato (he was a little standoffish). The image is bordering on surreal but is beautifully touching and nicely illustrates that Steve is no hippie. His cows live well and he looks out for them far more than most farmers but when it comes to it, the bulls end up in the abattoir and on people’s tables and the heifers are there to produce milk and more cows.
The Moo Man asks some very interesting questions within the microcosm of the Hook’s farm. Why are so many dairy farms going out of business? Why are we in a situation where supermarkets buy milk for less than it costs to make? How have we not managed to find a solution to badgers spreading TB? Is this really the way we want dairy farming to go? Isn’t it possible to have happy long living cows and provide enough milk for the market? Sadly, the wider extents of these questions are not addressed but then, that’s not really the remit of this film.
There is so much more to recommend in this film, I haven’t even managed to mention Ida again. But you’ll meet her when you go see The Moo Man in the cinemas because it's hit its Kickstarter target (and then some) and so will be getting a proper cinema release. And it deserves nothing less. The Moo Man is a touching meditation on our relationship with the food chain. If it doesn’t make you think, there isn’t much hope. If it doesn’t make you shed a tear, your soul is a very dark place indeed…
Check out The Moo Man trailer here.