When it comes to social or political movements, Americans tend to favor hero narratives that focus on or elevate individuals. And if the tale ends in tragedy, we want there to be some sort of blaze-of-glory defiance in play. As outlined in the documentary Hanna Ranch, Kirk Hanna's story complicates and then subverts that hero playbook. Dubbed the eco-cowboy in his lifetime for his visionary embrace and practice of holistic farming (employing a rotating grazing plan; using goats to control weeds; favoring natural fertilizer over chemical), the late Colorado rancher seemed on his way to being a player on the big political stage when personal and professional setbacks hit him. The resulting tragedy still reverberates for his family and friends.
Director Mitch Dickman crafts a detailed, moving personal narrative (the family drama subplot alone is worthy of a nighttime soap opera), which he nimbly links to big-picture concerns such as the long-term costs of unchecked real-estate development and the quality of the food we eat. It's a brisk, informative and engrossing look at an unsung hero (Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation and one of the film's producers, sings Hanna's praises) who helped forge the blueprint for a sustainable future.