The advance info for the Sundance movie Moo Man describes it as a "gritty" look at a year in the life of a dairy farmer.
I'd say "mucky" is a better description.
Phil and Steve Hook run a small organic dairy farm in East Sussex. Phil has been on the farm all his life; Steve is his eldest son and the human protagonist of the film which moves at a cow's pace through birth, life, milking, illness and death–with close-up, graphic shots of each–in the Hooks' small herd of Friesian-Holstein cows. Most of the film's dialogue is between Steve and the cows, particularly the queen of the herd, Ida, with whom he has a special relationship. Make all the jokes you like, but Moo Man is a love story as much as a documentary on an endangered dairy farm.
This is not your standard Sundance material, and several of the hip cineastes in the full theater left before the movie was over. But I think they were the losers.
Even if you don't already have a strong interest, like I do, in sustainable agriculture and the preservation of small family farms, Moo Man draws you in via the small dramas in a farmer's–and a cow's–life and the powerful bond between man and animal.
Steve delivers food, water and comfort to a cow downed in a field by a lame leg; lovingly grooms one cow for a PR trip to the seaside; and aids in several difficult births. A couple of the newborns are bull calves, which are normally killed at birth on a dairy farm, but which Hook & Sons allow to mature.
Eventually, of course, they are butchered for beef, which Steve sells at farmers markets along with his raw organic milk. We see that too, not the butchering, but Steve handling the plastic wrapped meat and reminiscing about the cow that was.
It's this slow cycle that is fascinating about Moo Man, the life cycle of the cows and the work cycle of the farmer, the cows daily going out to graze and homecoming at sunset, the farmer milking, bottling and delivering in the morning.
Most viewers will only see this life cycle as a treadmll and thank god they're not dairy farmers. Moo Man does not present a romantic view of Steve or his cows. It does show the love and dedication required to provide food that's good for people and cows and the place they live. And it highlights the quiet heroism of a small revolution against the partnership of big agriculture, supermarkets and government that rules our plates, palates and milk jugs. Three dairy farms go out of business every week in the UK. There were 34,570 dairy farms in 1996 in the UK and only 14,500 today.
The story isn't much different in the U.S.
So when I glimpsed Phil and Steve Hook at Sundance HQ yesterday afternoon, I felt I was seeing the realest celebrities at Sundance.