An octogenarian biodynamic farmer battles bureaucracy in his quest to preserve Danish Red dairy cattle, and to practice crop and animal husbandry in a respectful manner, in the inspiring, good-looking observational documentary “Good Things Await.” Biodynamics is a spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture, food production and nutrition, and the stubborn, hard-working, articulate Niels Stokholm is the movement’s prime practitioner in Denmark, though his brand of sustainable farming is under threat. Fests, broadcasters and niche distribs will appreciate the calm, cogent presentation of Stokholm’s message as well as the pic’s meditative visual style.
In the nearly 40 years since Stokholm founded his farm Thorshojgaard, along with its mission to preserve the ancient Danish Red breed, he and wife Rita Hansen have raised some of the world’s finest consumable products, grown in purported harmony with the universe. Thorshojgaard now supplies the country’s most prestigious restaurants including NOMA and Restaurant Julian. Nevertheless, Stokholm’s methods are not popular with the agricultural authorities, who rigidly observe EU laws about animal welfare. As a result, he cannot get an “organic” certification, even though all the cattle’s fodder is grown on the farm’s own lands (grass and herbs in the fields during the summer and hay during the winter), breeding is natural, and the calves remain with the herd for six months.
Constant random inspections from inspectors not sensitive to biodynamic principles turn up niggling issues, resulting in fines, accompanied by threats to withdraw his license to keep cattle. The buildings on the farm (which was founded in 1975) are deteriorating, and with no successor to Thorshojgaard in sight, Stokholm’s life’s work could fall apart. As time passes, bad weather and the various court cases resulting from the inspections start to take a toll on the Thorshojgaard’s finances and staff. Just when matters seem strained to the max, resourceful chef Jesper Moller from Restaurant Julian proposes a solution.
Ambo spent nearly a year at the farm, observing the rhythms of life and the passage of the seasons. Early on, she is called to do her part to preserve the extremely attractive Danish Red breed when Stokholm insists that she put down the camera and come assist him and Rita with the breech birth of a big bull calf. Cows aside, Thorshojgaard is practically bursting with animal life: Barn cats, farm dogs, pigs, piglets, hens and sheep of Nordic origin caper about. From the earthworms in the soil to the rooks in the trees, to the bees and butterflies, all are essential to Stokholm’s method. Even his pre-meal prayer is a biodynamic credo: “Dear sun, dear earth, we are grateful for what it’s worth. Bless this food.”
Although Stokholm and his wife seem to have only one busy farmhand, they get help at various times of the year from high-school students who spend a week working and learning on the farm. The farmer demonstrates and explains to them his “growth drops,” natural fertilizer made from cow horns that are filled with manure, buried in the earth over a season, and then dug up and mixed with hot water.
In a period when concerns about food and health are paramount, “Good Things Await” makes arguments for biodynamic principles and practices that are both logically and cinematically compelling. Kudos to Ambo for finding a style and pace that perfectly complement her protagonist: A sensual craft package perfectly captures the magical beauty and wild danger of Danish nature, and satisfyingly conjures its smells and tastes. The lyrical lensing of Ambo and Maggie Olkuska, and the poetic cutting by Theis Schmidt, are taken to another level in combination with the renowned vocal group Theatre of Voices, singing Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson’s expressive choral works.