Colloquial use of “found footage” conditioned most audiences to expect horror stories. Yet not all abandoned or forgotten footage drives audiences to nightmares. In fact, most home movies provide unique, unfiltered visions of a family. The life of the mundane rarely feels cinematic when we live it. Yet, for Charles Carson, his absurd honesty and earnest approach to filmmaking made for astoundingly surreal footage. Director Oscar Harding compiles Carson’s footage and displays the life of a secret artist. After all, meaningful creations can come from anywhere.

Pulling from VHS tapes and home video, documentarian Oscar Harding began hunting down a local legend. For those who knew Charles Carson, his absurdist tapes provided a sense of joy. Yet his oddity did not only create feelings of happiness and joy. Carson also utilized his art to help get through moments of intense grief and loss. Through the exploration of these vignettes, Carson paints a surprisingly beautiful self portrait.

Harding’s assembly of footage and talking head interviews adds further joy. The images are comedic on their own right. Yet, the commentators point to the absurdity of A Life on the Farm that goes beyond it’s silliness. Even small filmmaking techniques contain moments of joy for the audience. Whether these moments of humor come intentionally or not is irrelevant. The viewing of this footage becomes an act of community building.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of viewing A Life on the Farm is just how emotionally fulfilling it becomes. There’s something about the farm life that feels wholesome, even in Carson’s absurdist sketches. It sneaks up on the audience, consistently drawing your focus to Carson’s latest stunt, instead of the impending emotional gut punch. It feels like a magic trick that pulls off the wild premise of the film.

When Harding nails the climax, you will feel as if Carson won the World Series. To craft this oddball footage, and make it emotionally devasting, is no easy task. Yet that is exactly how A Life on the Farm gets under your skin. Behind the curious visuals, oddball humor, and even stranger style, there’s a simple want: to create. The sheer effort to put yourself out there, an action that may result in rejection, reminds us why the world needs more Carsons.

Alan’s Rating: 7/10

A Life on the Farm played at Fantastic Fest 2022.

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