The documentary “Hanna Ranch” recounts the life of Kirk Hanna, heralded as the “eco-cowboy” from Colorado by author Eric Schlosser in “Fast Food Nation.” Long before sustainability became an agribusiness buzzword, Hanna had adopted holistic resource management by deploying about 300 head of cattle on a rotational grazing plan and about 400 goats for weed control.
Many thought the charismatic and visionary rancher would serve in Congress one day, but he was too engulfed by an uphill battle with urban sprawl from Colorado Springs and Pueblo, sandwiching his ranch. Erosion and floods brought by urban encroachment also came, further complicated by lucrative buyout offers from developers. A nasty estate fight sees none other than his own brother, Steve Hanna, cast as the antagonist.
Despite Schlosser’s involvement as a producer and a talking head, the film bucks the advocacy documentaries trend. Rather than promoting activism, filmmaker Mitch Dickman’s top priorities seem to be fathoming Kirk Hanna’s sticky wicket and honoring his legacy. Without passing judgment, Dickman illustrates how Hanna’s way of life and personal convictions compelled his politics. He also allows Steve Hanna a fair shot at presenting his version of the events.
Though not disclosed until the end, family history and Kirk Hanna’s conspicuous absence among those interviewed foreshadow his fate. He may have crumbled under the harsh realities that ranchers face, but his idealism did not.
“Hanna Ranch.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 13 minutes. At Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena.