Costa Botes' gentle, yet eye-opening new documentary delves into bovine life on a Cambridge farm where offbeat cow whisperer Andrew Johnstone tends the herd in his own idiosyncratic ways.
Veteran independent documentary-maker Costa Botes (Forgotten Silver, Act of Kindness, Angie) returns to NZIFF with an observational documentary charting the unusual life of musician, journalist, artist and cow whisperer, Andrew Johnstone.
Opening on the Johnstone family farm in Cambridge, When the Cows Come Home introduces audiences to Tilly and Maggie, a pair of cows Johnstone has befriended and subsequently saved from slaughter. The garrulous herdsman is enthusiastic to expound his views on animal husbandry, bovine communication and the vagaries of life in general, before the film walks us back through the events that have shaped the singular farmer-philosopher.
From personal family tragedy to warring with Catholic school authorities, innovating in Hamilton’s nascent music scene to creating guerrilla art installations; Johnstone’s life has had a truly idiosyncratic trajectory. Mental health issues may have seen him retreat to life on the farm, but the film makes clear its subject’s restless inquisitiveness is far from being put out to pasture.
Interviewing family and friends involved in the various phases of Johnstone’s evolution, it seems as though Botes, himself a one-man production company, has found a kindred spirit in this offbeat bohemian polymath. — Adrian Hatwell