Peter Dunning is the proud proprietor of Mile Hill Farm, which sits on 187 acres in Vermont. The land’s 38 harvests have seen the arrivals and departures of three wives and four children, leaving Peter with only animals and memories. The arrival of a film crew causes him to confront his history and his legacy, passing along hard-won agricultural wisdom even as he doubts the meaning of the work he is fated to perform until death. Haunted by alcoholism and regret, Peter veers between elation and despair, often suggesting to the filmmakers his own suicide as a narrative device. He is a tragedian on a stage it has taken him most of his life to build, and which now threatens to collapse from under him. At once a postcard from paradise and a cautionary tale for our times, Peter and The Farm sifts through the potential energy of a human life, that which is used and that which is squandered.
Tony Stone (“Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America”) directs this melancholy character study of the charismatic 68-year-old lonely, alcoholic and suicidal Springfield, Vermont farmer of 187 acres, Peter Dunning. The white-bearded loner has been married three times and has four estranged children. On the organic farm there are many crops, sheep, cows and memories. His products are sold at the Brattleboro Farmers’ Market.
Assistant director Dylan Kraus, not from the area and no farmer, is recruited to help around the farm and is at times severely rebuffed by the moody subject for screwing up. The grumpy, foul-mouthed complicated farmer, who tells people off when he’s pissed isn’t all that likable, but his accomplishments on his organic Mile High Farm are awesome and when in a good mood he can be funny in a droll way.
Dunning, in a pained confessional voice, tells us how he is the Farm, and how he started it in 1978 enjoying the work but now he feels his life is squandered and the farm is just too much toil. He reminds me of a bar drunk laying on stranger patrons his heavy trip, as he with ease tells of the death of his parents causing him to be adopted and being unhappy about it; his happy days of drunken camaraderie in the marines; his college education; his interest in painting; the time he worked in a sawmill and his hand was severed and sewn back; his identification with the ’60s counterculture and its back-to-the-land movement; and that his brightest days were in 1998 when he was still married and the children were on the farm.
Peter is happiest when slaughtering his animals and wisest when talking about the land, as he tells us, “You have to learn what it wants to be. Not what you want it to be and that takes time,” He’s most depressing when whining about how his life is now so sad.
Since the animals are slaughtered in a graphic way, with spurting blood, the squeamish should be wary.
— Dennis Schwartz (Ozus’ World Movie Reviews)