Peter Dunning lives alone on his farm in Vermont. A former Marine that is estranged from his children and ex-wives, Peter’s sole companions are the various the animals that roam his property. The secluded life and gruff exterior of Peter Dunning is the subject of the documentary by director Tony Stone, Peter and the Farm. The film is a tragic character study of a world-weary man that finds comfort in either his work or the bottle.
Peter and the Farm is unflinching in its look at Peter’s life as a farmer. There are scenes in the film that are not for the faint of heart, including a moment early in the film where the farmer slaughters a lamb and proceeds to skin it. And yet for all the moments that are difficult to watch there are just as many that are beautifully composed and lit, highlighting the rustic setting of the farm as well as the natural majesty that surrounds it.
Also unflinching is the honest portrait of Peter Dunning, warts and all. Dunning is open in talking about the fact that he’s alienated from his grown children, sometimes using extremely harsh language about them when inebriated. He’s candid about the fact that throughout all of the changes in his life, such as the wives that are no longer around, the only constant is his farm, which is in decay due to the lack of help. The farmer recounts the accident at the sawmill that mutilated his left hand, his time in the Marine Corps, and how the hippie lifestyle led him to establishing his farm in the first place.
Nothing is more open about Peter Dunning that his rampant alcoholism, which is frequently on display in Peter and the Farm. The demons within come bubbling to the forefront when he’s had too much drink, and Peter often discusses taking his own life with the filmmakers as if teasing some kind of sensationalized ending to this documentary. There’s a bitterness and cruelty that comes out when he’s imbibed too much alcohol, and poor assistant director Dylan Kraus seems to be the target of these outbursts. Towards the end of the film, when the crew is filming in winter, it seems as if Peter is at the end of his rope, depressed and more bitter than usual. But when the filmmakers return to the farm after the snow has melted, it seems as if the sunshine of spring has reinvigorated the old farmer, though he’s still very wary about his future.
Thankfully, Peter and the Farm doesn’t end with the gruesome finale that Peter Dunning constantly teases. What Peter and the Farm illustrates is the long lasting repercussions of our actions as people, whether it be in relationships with family or how we care for the environment. Peter Dunning represents both the best and worst in similar regards, as he’s allowed his personal relationships to disintegrate due to his vices while letting a piece of land flourish like never before. This is a strong piece of documentary filmmaking, one where the filmmakers don’t inject themselves into the story unless their subject demands that they be pulled into the fray. The heartbreak and honesty at the heart of Peter and the Farm make for an engrossing portrait of someone who lives their life differently than most yet is still bound by the same feelings and emotions that bind together all of humanity.
Peter and the Farm
- Overall Score
A fascinating portrait of farmer Peter Dunning, Tony Stone’s Peter and the Farm is a beautifully composed documentary that explores all the faults and virtues of the reclusive farmer.