SXSW 2016: ‘Boone’ is a documentary unlike any you have ever seen

Void of interviews, archive footage and narration, Boone offers a beautiful and unflinching look at the lives of three young goat farmers as they face an uncertain future. It’s one of the most unique documentaries you have ever laid your eyes on, bringing to mind what might happen if Terrance Malick turned his efforts toward non-fiction storytelling, and it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

Text on the screen tells us the Boone farm was established in 2001 in Oregon. Any illusions you might have about life on a farm are dispelled almost as soon as the film begins. It’s currently birthing season, and with only a flashlight to guide them a team of young farmers assist a screaming goat who is having difficulty giving birth. The head of a baby goat is exposed, but the rest of its body remains within its mother, which raises concern over the possibility of suffocation. In one moment both life and death hang in the balance, and without musical cue the screams of the goat and the distant roar of strong winds is the only soundtrack you hear. The camera is shaking, as are the people on screen. It’s visceral—beautiful, even—and haunting.

As our story continues, the three people keeping Boone farm alive face increasingly great challenges, largely as a result of the changing economic climate in the U.S., as well as the stringent regulations placed on farmers. This information is not conveyed through text on screen, but rather through subtle bits of conversation and the occasional hum of radio waves. The future and all that is unknown about it is always looming, but for the three farmers at the center of the story there is too much to do from day to day for them to fret over what-ifs. There are goats to be milked, cheese to be made, babies to be birthed, crops to be tended to and a wide variety of related tasks that each take a physical and mental toll on the body. It’s exhausting just to see, let alone consider doing yourself.

All that said, Boone is not a political film. The purpose of its existence is not to persuade viewers to feel one way or another, but rather to capture the evolving economics of life on the American frontier and the people impacted by those changes. These are people with no stake in the greater political game, nor any outspoken desire for power or wealth. All these farmers hope to do is to continue farming, but even when they work their hardest there is no guarantee they can keep on keeping on as they have for over a decade.

The real question is, why? In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, why do these individuals continue to work themselves to the bone for a career and lifestyle they know may soon fade away? No answer is ever given, but the reasoning appears to be freedom. On the edge of society, out where the animals roam, the people in this film and others like them are actually free. They can be and do whatever they desire, and in 2016 that is an opportunity that no amount of guaranteed income from a cushy corporate job could hope to match.

Filmmaker Christopher LaMarca has described his impression of Boone as being both quiet and savage, which isn’t far from the truth. The good and bad flows like water throughout the film, with every high and low given the same respect and attention. No punches are pulled, but none are thrown either. As time passes you become increasingly ingrained in the lives of the farmers, and you want nothing more than to see them find a way to continue living their lives. They aren’t harming anyone, nor seeking selfish gains. They are working with the dirt and the animals that walk upon it to improve the lives of the community around them. If that isn’t the definition of the American dream in action, what is?

But Boone is about more than the lives of the three farmers we follow. It’s about life on the edge of modern civilization, where people, just like animals, rely on the Earth and the kindness of mother nature in order to survive. The beauty and brutality present in everyday life are presented without sentiment, poetry or inflection. From feeding the young to killing to eat, everything unfolds in a natural way that challenges the viewer to rethink just how much “living” we actually do in our daily lives.

While LaMarca may have taken a minimalist approach to his filmmaking, Boone is anything but a small achievement. LaMarca accomplishes more with the sight and sound of nature than any amount of clever aftereffects and infographs ever could because he humanizes the utopian dream of farming in a way rarely, if ever, presented before. This is non-sentimental storytelling; there is no cry for help, nor pointing of any fingers. This is simply a look into a lifestyle many may never know, and all the uncertainty that comes with it in the modern age. In terms of honesty, Boone is as raw as it gets, and you cannot help inching closer toward the edge of your seat with each passing frame.