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The Moo Man: Praise should be given to these filmmakers…

The Moo Man 2Cows are not considered to be the most graceful creatures on earth, and dairy farming can hardly be said to be a glamorous occupation, so one would surely anticipate that a documentary about the two would be a rather awkward and boring affair? Emma Norton reviews.

Well, filmmakers Andy Heathcote and Heike Bachelier’s new documentary The Moo Man, a study of life on one East Sussex farm, exceeds all expectations and proves that there’s a lot more to think about when it comes to the bovine world than we may have initially thought.

As a lifelong city dweller I don’t really have a strong connection to the countryside, which to me is a largely alien place reserved solely for weekend getaways when the urban existence of sitting behind a desk in an air conditioned office building becomes too demanding. However, for Stephen Hook, owner of the Hook and Son dairy farm, the countryside is his life. He is absolutely dedicated to his land and his livestock. It is his unique passion and hands on approach to his job which is intensely observed in The Moo Man.

Stephen is bucking the trends in the British dairy industry. In order to cultivate a close relationship with the dairy cows he works with on a daily basis he has reduced the size of his stock to just 75, way below the industry standard of around 150. He also only produces organic raw milk, a product he believes to be far superior to the pasteurised version we city dwellers can pick up in Tesco Express, which government health regulations dictate can only be sold by the farmer direct to the consumer.

Selling the organic raw milk at his own prices means that Stephen can actually see some meagre profit from his backbreaking 7-day a week job. Currently, as Stephen wearily tells the camera, milk costs a farmer 34p to produce on average per litre, the supermarkets buy at 27p per litre. You don’t need to be a mathematician to figure out that means our dairy farmers are losing money on their products. Unable to make a profit, farmers are therefore reliant on government benefits for their survival – effectively meaning that we as taxpayers are forking out for cheap milk, and the only parties who benefit in this arrangement are the supermarkets.

This is a big issue for British dairy farmers which has not seen enough coverage in the press, but The Moo Man is not just raising awareness about that particular issue, which actually receives very little screen time (but still manages to make an clear impact on the audience). The main bulk of the action in this documentary sits with Stephen and his cows.

A lot of time is spent building up an image of the relationship Stephen has with the herd, and with individual characters. This is where the fantastic humour and emotional appeal of The Moo Man lies – at times leaving you chucking and others leaving you feeling teary-eyed.

This is one of the most enjoyable documentaries I have watched recently, slow paced but edited with excellent skill to produce a heart-warming story which is surprisingly thought-provoking. Praise should be given to these filmmakers for causing a hard-line city-dweller like me to actually sit back and think about the work of our rural farmers, the treatment of our dairy cows, and how our demand for cheap milk has forced unpleasant changes to the British dairy industry.

The Moo Man is currently showing in UK cinemas, to find a screening near you, visit the film’s website.

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Emma's passion for documentary film developed whilst studying History and Politics at Warwick University. After interning for the BBC's international documentary strand 'Storyville' she became intent on working in the documentary film-making industry and now works for a London-based independent production company [Spirit Level Film]. Emma is one of the only documentary-lovers around that thinks Errol Morris' films are boring.

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