Christopher LaMarca’s poetical verite feature “Boone” spends a year or so — the final year, it turns out — among residents of a rural Southern Oregon farm. The bucolic life looks beautiful if bone-wearying here, yet no amount of toil can ultimately save this family-scaled enterprise from the ruination of modern agricultural economics. Lacking much in the way of explanatory detail, let alone political commentary, this spare, straightforward observation of a disappearing way of life will appeal to fans of enigmatic, lyrical documentaries like the recent “Rich Hill” or Frederick Wiseman’s oeuvre.
The 30-ish trio who live and work on Boone’s Farm are veterans of organic farming and environmental activism, though those backstories — even clarifying their relationships to one another — don’t fit into director LaMarca’s purist on-screen approach. Instead, he focuses strictly on the daily labor that Zachary, Dana and Michael, aka Mookie, share. A big part of their operation revolves around maintaining a herd of goats, with the related manufacture of cheese and other foodstuffs. But they also have chickens and a donkey, grow produce, do some logging, make canned goods for sale, repair their own machinery, and so on and so forth.
There’s never any complaining about the life they’ve chosen (Mookie established the farm in 2001, the others joining several years later), but as one observes, “We work our asses off … (yet) even if it’s successful, it’s still not enough.” Finally, accumulated debts force them to shutter the operation a decade after its founding. The closing text explains that state regulations around the sale of raw milk and cheese had doomed the farm’s financial survival.
There’s some drama here, from an early thunderstorm (which elicits a priceless why-is-this-torment-happening-to-me expression from one incredulous goat) to the ebbing life of a beloved dog and, finally, the packing up and selling off of all farm assets. It’s implicit that an endeavor such as this, the likes of which sustained millions of Americans until recent decades, ought to be able to support its owners. The film doesn’t need to explain why they no longer do; small, sustainable agriculture is on the losing end of business trends worldwide, despite all escalating desire for its environmental and dietary virtues.
Sad as the specific outcome and underlying message is, “Boone” is primarily a pastoral experience marked by some lovely cinematography, an unhurried pace and atmospheric ambient sound design. (The only music heard is a few tracks by piano-based songwriter Steve Waitt that the subjects play themselves.) The thoughtful assembly underlines the straightforward yet meditative tenor in all departments.