When you call cows, you say co'boss. And when you call sheep, you say co'da. This information is relayed to us in the first few minutes of Peter and the Farm by Peter Dunning, who's lived and worked on 187 acres near Brattleboro, Vermont, for the lion's share of his life. We catch a glimpse of that life in Tony Stone's immersive documentary, which proves to be less an idyllic paean to the salt of the earth and more a reminder that all of us will eventually return to the earth.
A few minutes later, we watch as Peter shoots one those sheep in the back of the head and it bleeds out. Stone's film isn't for the faint of heart, even if it's rarely this graphic again: Peter and the Farm is all about the coexistence of beautiful environs and grim realities. Peter tends to his animals, drinks more than he should and shows off the hand that was mangled in an accident some 40 years ago.
Most of all, he talks: about conceiving one of his sons one night in a tent, while sleeping out in the field to fend off thieving raccoons and coyotes; about the fact that creativity and happiness rarely go hand in hand. Peter is so entertaining a presence, such a character, that his lively delivery of these anecdotes almost succeeds in masking the sadness behind them.
After a while you begin to suspect that his profanity-laced running monologue may not be a show for the camera crew following him around, that life on Mile Hill Farm requires the sound of a human voice to get through the day -- even if it's his own.