The Moo Man

The Moo Man

****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

I doubt that when director Andy Heathcote embarked on his documentary about a dairy stockman he imagined just how front and centre the provenance of our food would be when his film was released. But with the horsemeat scandal and issues concerning the food chain still causing ripples, this feels like a timely reminder of what animal husbandry, when done properly, is all about. That it also shows what a struggle it can be to farm traditionally is also likely to give you pause for thought next time you're in the meat aisle at your local supermarket.

Heathcote follows organic farmer Stephen Hook and his herd as they move through the seasons, perfectly capturing the everyday challenges, defeats and victories that make up Hook's life as an organic, 'raw' milk producer. Hook is a canny businessman but he also cares deeply about his herd beyond their fiscal value and that his cows live longer than average is testimony to this. Even the male calves - not a great deal of use to milk farmers - which would be killed at birth on most farms, get a couple of years good grazing before they are sent to meet their maker.

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Hook talks to his animals - around 75 in all - and has names for each of the 'ladies' in his herd. He outlines the importance of good husbandry but also the economic realities of running a farm in Britain today and the ever-present threat of TB.

Heathcote brings us close to the action and lets the ambient sound of the farm flood his film. He also pays attention and isn't scared to wait and watch while something happens, whether its the long and difficult birth of a calf or Hook's attempts to get his queen of the herd Ida back in the horsebox after a day's photoshoot in Eastbourne. This is first and foremost a celebration of life and life cycles but Heathcote's film also touches on deeper political issues surrounding the livelihoods of farmers - "the family farm is dying," asserts Hook - without labouring the point.

There are moving moments in this film - be warned, take tissues - but they flow organically from the events on the farm and never feel forced or edited for effect. The end result feels like a labour of love about a labour of love - and what could be more engaging than that?

Reviewed on: 31 Mar 2013
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The Moo Man packshot
The year in a life of a dairy stockman and his herd.
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Director: Andy Heathcote, Heike Bachelier

Starring: Stephen Hook

Year: 2013

Runtime: 98 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: UK


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