Documentary brings ‘weird genius’ of UK farmer home decades after his death

A found footage documentary, described as “Monty Python meets the Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” will have its UK and Europe premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on 18 and 19 August.

A Life on the Farm explores the quirky, heartfelt creative legacy of filmmaking farmer Charles Carson of Coombe End Farm in rural Somerset.

The documentary portrays an image of farming and rural Britain audiences have never seen before. It explores Carson’s long-lost home movies, as well as the people he inspired and the picture of rural life that is rapidly disappearing.

The unique, touching and often shocking legacy of the Somerset farmer has captured the imagination of supporters from all over the world, who funded the film via Kickstarter.

It attracted interest from executive producers and found footage aficionados Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett, whose credits include the Colbert Report, Chop & Steele and the Onion.

Since the film’s world premiere at the Milwaukee Film Festival - the city Director Oscar Harding calls home, where it won the Cream City Cinema Jury Award alongside the likes of Céline Sciamma - Carson’s life and work is being appreciated by audiences and critics alike, from Fantasia in Montreal to Revelation Perth in Australia.

Now, decades after his death, Charles Carson returns home from his international travels as A Life on the Farm premieres in the UK.

A Life on the Farm celebrates the life and unique perspectives on life, death and community of Carson, a farmer who turned to photography and filmmaking to relieve the pressures of looking after his family and running their farm in rural Somerset.

A still from 'A Life on the Farm'A still from 'A Life on the Farm'
A still from 'A Life on the Farm'

Even as the pressures of isolation, caring and grief bore down on Carson, he captured the realities of farm life, including many cow births, but also a cat funeral, skeletons riding tractors, and concerts with his own homemade instruments (including a rendition of ‘Scotland the Brave’ using only tractor parts).

While his work was recognised in national competitions and became a staple in his local community as he distributed his works to neighbours (sometimes against their will), he had to wait until his death to receive the international appreciation experts know he deserved.

Director, Oscar Harding, rescued his work from obscurity thanks to Carson’s habit of sharing tapes with his fellow villagers – one such villager was Harding’s grandfather.

After his passing, 10-year-old Oscar saw the original full-length video Carson created called Life on the Farm – but the content was so shocking that his parents stopped the tape halfway through.

Taken from the documentaryTaken from the documentary
Taken from the documentary

Reunited with the footage as an adult, in his directorial debut, Harding explores Carson’s feature-length film, his other creative pursuits and the man himself.

As well as letting those who knew Carson best tell his story, we hear from a variety of experts analysing Carson and his work from a modern perspective – a psychologist with an interest in rural mental health; a progressive mortician, who offers insight into Carson’s pioneering attitude towards death; found footage curators who provide insight into amateur filmmakers like Carson; and two journalists who judged an amateur filmmaking competition that Carson entered back in the late ‘90s, speaking for the first time in over 20 years about the fan club that Carson was unaware existed when he was alive.

Director Oscar Harding said: “It’s only right that after an extraordinary international jaunt, our favourite farmer finally comes home to the UK at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

“We never anticipated elevating Charles’ legacy would take three years and collaboration across states, countries, oceans and Zoom to do it – let alone that people from all over the world would connect with his story.

Charles Carson of Coombe End Farm in rural SomersetCharles Carson of Coombe End Farm in rural Somerset
Charles Carson of Coombe End Farm in rural Somerset

“The whole team is thrilled and honoured to share Charles’ eccentric, unique and positive – if not sometimes morbid – view of the world at EIFF.

“Ultimately, I hope Charles helps to show that film and history in Britain is as tapestried as the people in it, beyond the period dramas and romantic comedies the UK seems to be known for today,” he concluded.

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