“A Life on the Farm”

This film was screened at Fantastic Fest

On the surface, the documentary “A Life on the Farm” seems like an innocuous story of a loner farmer with a penchant for shooting his own home videos. That’s why filmmaker Oscar Harding was surprised that when his grandfather died, he left behind a videotape from longtime neighbor Charles Carson. Curious and confused, Harding gave the VHS a watch. What he saw was a home movie that felt a bit like a horror story, resulting in this disturbing and fascinating found footage documentary.

Charles appeared to live a mostly normal, quiet life tending to cows and growing crops on his rural Somerset, England property. What nobody knew is that he had a penchant for making his own movies. Charles would act like the host of a bizarre farming variety show, capturing disturbing aspects of his life for posterity.

The grainy videos are nothing short of mesmerizing, funny, and horrifying, from the untimely death and ritualistic send-off and burial of his beloved barn cat to graphic shots of a cow’s birth that includes a close-up view of the heifer’s placenta. Charles offered a glimpse into the real life world of a farmer, a processional with its own set of problems. Crops die, animals pass on, yet the circle of rebirth and growth continues. After exploring even deeper, it doesn’t take long to understand that the outlet Charles used to deal with these emotional rollercoasters of life was filmmaking.

Harding digs into the family history of the Carsons, from their original purchase of the property to the more touching moments about Charles and his relationship with his mother. This leads to a section on grief which is surprising and tender, including shots of old photos the man took with his parents and pets (both while they were alive and dead).

Charles was drawn to the idea of this cycle of life, but the film will leave you with one question: was he a genius or a psychopath? This film leaves it up to the viewer to decide, and the line isn’t as clear as you’d hope.

Harding relies heavily on actual footage from the videotape to tell his story, but breaks up the documentary with a series of talking head interviews with camcorder enthusiasts and other fans of Charles’ home movies. The film often shows something that you may wish you could unsee, yet you cannot look away.

“A Life on the Farm” ends with one of the most perfect finales ever: Charles, wearing a kilt and playing a makeshift instrument, cavorting about in a field full of wandering chickens. This oddball documentary is a beautiful celebration of an eccentric life well lived.

By: Louisa Moore

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