One of the most gorgeous films in recent memory, Boone is sure to give you an appreciation of the enormous work put in by Boone Farm’s three young farmers, and of that slab of goat cheese you spread on your Wasa.
Boone, directed by Christopher LaMarca. Playing at the Somerville Theatre on Sunday, May 1 at 3 p.m. as part of IFFBoston
By Betsy Sherman
Birth. Death. Chicken-plucking. Goat teats. A whole lot of goat teats. These are elements of the artful new documentary Boone, set at a modest goat farm in Jacksonville, Oregon. One of the most gorgeous films in recent memory, Boone has an impeccable aesthetic sense in its visual and auditory aspects. It’s sure to give you an appreciation of the enormous work put in by Boone Farm’s three young farmers, and of that slab of goat cheese you spread on your Wasa.
The film is an immersive documentary with no voice-over, minimal explanatory text and no one speaking directly to the camera (similar to Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab’s Leviathan but less abstract and much less vertiginous). We aren’t given background information on Michael, Dana and Zac, but they seem to be in their thirties, and it becomes clear eventually that Michael is the farm’s owner.
There’s no feeling of hierarchy at Boone’s Farm. The relationship is reciprocal among the three human residents, the animals and the land. The visible menagerie includes donkeys, dogs, cats, chickens, and the star goats; however, the ambient soundtrack captures a host of other, unseen creatures that populate the surrounding woods. Every day tasks, and those suited to particular seasons — planting, harvesting, cooking, milking, feeding animals, operating and repairing machinery — are shown with a sense of quiet awe, but without sentimentality. One of the few rhythms imposed by human whim is during milking: hands squeeze teats in percussive riffs to a song playing in the background.
Those bleating she-goats and their kids are a blast to watch and listen to, whether chewing their cuds, munching on alfalfa, or responding to the farmer’s “C’mon girls!” by forming into a herd (in one shot, two young’uns stand on the hood of a Mercedes). They’re listed by name in the end credits. The movie opens in the dark of night with a difficult birth taking place in the barn. In the days that follow, the tiny kid gets special attention, making it onto the farmers’s couch, where it’s bottle-fed and given medicine. Similar compassion figures into more routine practices, such as pressing a hot iron onto the baby goats’s horns (called “debudding,” it’s not explained in the film and thus took a little research — though when they spoke of “cutting” the boy kids, that doesn’t require a visit to Google). Dana comforts the traumatized kids in a way that’s sweet, but hey, she also says “sorry” to a hen for gathering her eggs.
Boone is the debut film of photojournalist Christopher LaMarca. He lived on Boone’s Farm for two years in order to make the film, shooting 500 hours of footage. This was fashioned, with the collaboration of editor Katrina Taylor, into a compact 75 minutes. There are stunningly beautiful shots of nature, wide shots and close-ups, and some powerful juxtapositions. At times the screen is nearly filled by a spinning tractor wheel or milk in a vat, and then there will be a landscape at dusk with a blue-gray cloudy sky and silhouettes of a pine-topped mountain and one of the farmers chopping wood. A goat in distress, lying on its side, cranes its neck and is momentarily the horse in Picasso’s Guernica. There are tonal contrasts that contribute to an underlying narrative. The house, shot from outside in the inky night, has an orange glow in the windows; however, the conversation inside is anything but cozy. It’s about how the farm continues to fall short of financial feasibility. In another scene, the audio from a radio or TV report is heard: “Once a farm goes away, it rarely comes back.”
Breathing is an important motif in Boone’s sound design, and its presence intimates its inevitable end. A sick goat, and a beloved old dog, are each sat with and held as their labored breathing peters out. Graves are dug and refilled. As the dog is brought to its resting place, a younger, frisky look-alike comes running up. “Say good-bye to your papa,” it’s told. Whether or not Boone’s Farm survives, the generations nurtured there will continue on.
Note: Expected to be in attendance at the screening — Director Christopher LaMarca and Producer Katrina Taylor
Betsy Sherman has written about movies, old and new, for The Boston Globe, The Boston Phoenix, and The Improper Bostonian, among others. She holds a degree in archives management from Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science. When she grows up, she wants to be Barbara Stanwyck.