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Sundance London: The cows come home

Sundance hit The Moo Man gets a warm welcome at its UK premiere.

Sundance director John Cooper admits he and his programmers didn’t expect great things when they started watching a film called The Moo Man. Thankfully, they overcame their trepidations about the title and “fell in love” with the film so much that it made the cut for the World Cinema Documentary Competition at Sundance in January, where it proved to be an audience favourite. By the end of the festival, director Andy Heathcoate estimates his subject, English farmer Steve Hook, was getting stopped on Main Street “every 10 meters.”

The genial film follows Hook with the many day-to-day struggles (and few pleasures) of running a small dairy farm with 55 cows. There’s birth, death, and the spring stampede. There are some hard facts about the economics of farming, but mostly it’s a simple story about one farmer’s connection with his cows.

Filmmakers Heathcote and Heike Bachelier spent more than three years at the Hook & Son farm. Co-director Bachelier said after the film’s Sunday night screening at Sundance London: “they trusted us and opened up.”

Heathcote says: “It was an organic process…initially our attraction was about how they farmed. The more we filmed we realized the relationship between Steve and the animals was what we couldn’t lose.”

Hook thinks the film can bring attention to the struggles of farmers. “Small family farms are struggling the most. Also they are the backbone of the countryside. Small family farms on marginal land are keeping the countryside looking beautiful,” he said at the Sundance London screening.

After seeing the film, you’ll never look at a carton of supermarket milk the same way. Hook encouraged the audience at Sundance London: “Get as close to the [food] producer as you possibly can…if you eat healthily and know what you’re putting in your body, it’s good all around.”

The film will hit UK cinemas starting July 12, in a release the filmmakers are funding partially through Kickstarter. “We want to make it an event and talk about the issues,” Heathcote noted of the theatrical launch plans (November Films will serve as producer of marketing and distribution). Hook is expected to attend a series of screenings across the UK. Meanwhile Hook & Son milk, butter and cream are sold at London markets in Borough, Stoke Newington, and Chiswick among others.

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