An endearing portrait of the kind of age-old family farm that’s becoming extinct in today’s mass-production marketplace, “The Moo Man” focuses on a dairy farm near England’s southeastern coast and its proprietor’s fond, relaxed relationship with his few dozen cows. This latest by documentarians Andy Heathcote and Heike Bachelier has a chance to follow their prior feature, “The Lost World of Mr. Hardy” (which also showcased a dying art, in that case hand-crafting fishing tackles), into limited U.K. release. Elsewhere, it’ll be an appealing broadcast item whose leisurely pace, while enjoyable, has room for cuts to fit shorter program slots.
Having taken over the business from his father, middle-aged Stephen Hook is pretty much the whole show at Hook & Son. With relatively little assistance (at least that we see), he produces and delivers organic raw milk that’s in a whole different ballpark from the stuff you get at the supermarket. Unfortunately, such grocery stores can sell their product so cheaply that a farm like his can barely squeak by, even with government assistance. (Closing text notes that every day, a U.K. family farm shuts down permanently.)
The focus isn’t primarily on economic struggle, however, but on the affable Hook’s daily rounds with his herd of 50 or 70 cows — a far smaller number than most modern stockmen supervise, allowing for a personal relationship with each handsome, mostly black-and-white Holstein. The bond between man and beast is palpable: He doesn’t have to herd them — they simply come when called, when not absently straying off or having a stubborn moment. While milkings are somewhat mechanized, the heifers live pleasant long lives far from what they’d experience in a factory-farm setting. And while most such dairies simply shoot male calves upon birth, Hook lets them hang around a few years before being sold for beef.
Mostly attuned to the rhythms of daily life, the pic does have a few dramatic sequences, as when Hook has to attend three births in a row, or when one calf falls ill from having swallowed some wire. The gentle tenor is abetted by the easygoing pace, Stephen Daltry’s attractive chamber score and Heathcote’s lensing, which captures the surroundings’ pastoral beauty without going for picture-postcard prettiness.