In 1970, 1,500 hippies and their spiritual guru Stephen Gaskin founded a commune in rural Tennessee, United States. Members gave over their life savings, grew their own food, delivered their babies at home and built a self-sufficient society. Raised in this alternative community by a Jewish mother from Beverly Hills and a Puerto Rican father from the Bronx, filmmakers and sisters Rena and Nadine return for the first time since leaving in 1985. As well as facing their past after years of hiding their upbringing, they chart the rise and fall of America’s largest utopian socialist experiment and their own family tree. The nascent idealism of a community destroyed, in part by its own idealism, is reflected in the personal story of a family split apart by differences. American Commune finds inspiration in failure, humour, and most surprisingly, that community values are alive and well in the next generation.
Bikpela Bagarap (Big Damage) is the story of logging in Papua New Guinea, following the reality of systemic exploitation by logging companies of indigenous communities, where locals are not even citizens in their own country. Customary landowners are coerced into signing release documents, or sign with the understanding that promises for clean water, health and education will be delivered. On the contrary, traditional hunting grounds are destroyed, waterways polluted, and livelihoods threatened.
During the 2019–2020 Hong Kong protests, after 6 months of ongoing actions, and with protesters facing escalating stakes from police shootings and other violent repression, students began to fortify a number of the city’s major universities and occupy vital roads nearby. This lead to a peak moment in the protest movement—the siege of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Protesters gathered at the university to defend their roadblocks, while the police shot tear gas and used water cannons to shower the protesters with water containing blue colouring and chemical irritants. 1,458 canisters of tear gas were fired at protesters, as well as 1,391 rubber bullets, 325 bean bag rounds, and 256 sponge grenades. The city’s hospitals were overwhelmed by the number of protesters needing urgent medical attention. Burn with Us documents a first-hand view of the conflict, and its results, in a fly-on-the-wall style.
Copwatch depicts WeCopWatch, an organisation dedicated to video recording the police in the United States. For example, Cop Watch members capture original video of the deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Its members legally record and document police arrests as part of a movement for police accountability and transparency, but often find themselves to be the victims of chaos and police brutality as a result of the culture of extreme police misconduct and violence. The stories are told through Ramsey Orta, Kevin Moore, who filmed the police abuse of Freddie Gray, and David Whitt who lived in the apartment complex where Michael Brown was killed, as well as Jacob Crawford, who co-founded Copwatch groups inspired by the Berkeley Copwatch group. The film shows how Cop Watchers are dedicated to bringing awareness to their community, by exposing police brutality and harassment.
Disobedience glances a new phase of civil disobedience movements to stop climate change by profiling some actions that are being taken throughout the world, led by regular people. Civil disobedience and direct action are at the centre of stopping the rich and powerful from destroying the planet—we actually have to stop them. Disobedience shows that profound shifts are required to deal with the climate crisis. The calling on how to act is up to you.
Do Not Resist documents, from the perspective of the police, their view of the social unrest following the shooting and killing of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, 2014, against a backdrop of the routine and escalating use of military tactics and high-powered weaponry by local police forces throughout the United States in the past two decades. Military equipment deployed throughout the Middle East returns home to be used against the citizenry. Local police recruitment and training is awash in military commandments backed by views of escalating ‘righteous’ violence and sadism. Meanwhile curfews are imposed, along with frivolous drug raids and incessant racial profiling. The voices of concerned citizens ignored. What is the cultural and technological trajectory here?
In 2018, an electrical fault ignited a fire that spread to become the worst wildfire in the history of California, United States. A year after the devastation, Fire in Paradise sets out to examine how the fire was so catastrophic due to a combination of converging factors such as dry season and high winds, as well as criminal negligence at the hands of the electrical company—Pacific Gas and Electric—that caused the ignition. With accounts from survivors, first responders, and footage taken during the disaster, the film tells the inside story of how the most destructive fire in California’s history engulfed more than an entire town.
Two years before the Occupy movement sprang forth in New York, a small group of land-rights activists occupied a piece of disused land in west London to create an “alternative model of moneyless, sustainable living” which they labelled, the Eco-Village. Echoing the dynamics of hippy communes in the United States decades earlier, Grasp the Nettle follows the often bewildering and even amusing actions of this group through many moments of idyllic beauty, as they use local trees and recycled rubbish to build small homes, go dumpster diving, build a manually operated shower and compost toilet, create a local seed bank, and help distribute dumpstered sandwiches to the city’s homeless. But the Eco-Village quickly becomes something other than just an idealistic experiment in political protest. It begins to attract vulnerable people who already live on the margins of society and need help: the homeless, the unemployed, alcoholics, the mentally ill. Some of them are invited to stay, but others cause a ruckus and harm the group. Tensions spark as the community grapples to deal with the increasing chaos while trying to stave off the fast-approaching prospect of eviction, through the ideologies of withdrawal, dropping out, freemanism and spirtuality. Grasp the Nettle is hence a valuable reflection of the efficacy of this type of Wandervogel-style activism, where lack of goals and support infrastructure, a diverse array of internal conflicts and horizontal hostility can be the ultimate undoing of idealistic and much-needed political resistance movements.
How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change travels the globe, from New York City to the Marshall Islands and China, to meet with people who are committed to reversing the tide of global warming. The film examines the intricately woven forces that threaten the stability of the climate and the lives of the world’s inhabitants.
Introduction To Permaculture provides an overview of some practical examples of permaculture design, while following the interwoven themes of ethics, community, planning and ecology. The film follows Geoff Lawton who is a permaculture consultant, designer and teacher in Australia and throughout the world, demonstrating some of the possibilities of permaculture design and how it can transform the way we eat and live…
Let the Fire Burn documents the conflict of the City of Philadelphia and the Black Liberation organisation MOVE, that led to a disastrously violent confrontation in 1985. MOVE was originally established as a “back to nature” movement that practised green methods, and in May 1985, the Philadelphia Police Department decided to take action to evict the group from their row house at 6221 Osage Avenue. When gunfire broke out and tear gas was not enough to pull the MOVE members out of the house, the police decided to drop explosives on the house. A fire soon began to blaze, endangering the several children now trapped inside the house. In a controversial decision, the police opted to let the fire burn, resulting in the destruction of over 60 homes and the death of five children and six adults. Eleven people died in the resulting fire, and more than 250 people in the neighbourhood were left homeless. Ramona Africa, one of the two survivors, said that police fired at those trying to escape. The investigation commission that followed found that city leaders and law enforcement had acted negligently, but no criminal charges were filed.
No Measure of Health profiles Kyle Magee, an anti-advertising activist from Melbourne, Australia, who for the past 10 years has been going out into public spaces and covering over for-profit advertising in various ways. The film is a snapshot of his latest approach, which is to black-out advertising panels in protest of the way the media system, which is funded by advertising, is dominated by for-profit interests that have taken over public spaces and discourse. Kyle’s view is that real democracy requires a democratic media system, not one funded and controlled by the rich. As this film follows Kyle on a regular day of action, he reflects on fatherhood, democracy, what drives the protest, and his struggle with depression, as we learn that “it is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
In the wake of giant speculative property bubbles and high unemployment, ordinary people are occupying empty buildings in urban areas and turning them into free, open and public space. Communities thrive alongside music and art collectives, concerts, food co-operatives and community gardens. One also finds construction workshops, child care, language classes, political talks and even legal advice on social and economic rights. Okupación focuses in on such community spaces in Madrid, Spain; and follows the fight to keep such spaces alive and open.
With economic collapse besieging the United States, domestic violence statistics show a sharp increase in violence against women. States are closing shelters and cutting support programs, and the culture ignores domestic violence, except when celebrities are involved on TV. In the meantime, more spouses have been killed by their partners in the past several years than soldiers have been killed in Iraq. Power and Control addresses this life and death issue during a time of urgent crisis, a timely and comprehensive exploration of physical and emotional abuse in dominant culture, as refracted through the story of Kim Mosher, a mother of three who has recently left her abusive husband. As Kim and her fragile daughters take up residence in a domestic violence shelter, the film follows the harrowing struggles in a single-parenting survivor’s quest to find work, housing and peace of mind. We also meet Kim’s husband, Josh, himself a survivor of abuse. His attempts to explain his behaviour are troubling—shocking in the context of the story’s final twist. The multi-level narrative also examines the root causes of domestic violence and the solutions that have evolved to stop it, celebrating the battered women’s movement activists who demanded revolutionary change in the 1980s, and examining alternative approaches now being advocated.
The premise of The Age of Loneliness is of how our communities and indeed lives have been completely subsumed by capitalism, leaving us alone in tiny units, solitary. Screen culture and technology is often blamed, but this is more an extension of a larger problem. The Age of Loneliness is exacerbated by this culture making us feel like we have no purpose. How many of us know our neighbours? How many of us even know the land where we live? How has this been destroyed, usurped? What of the nuclear family? With single parents in numbers like never before and families spanning across the globe, all of this poses much larger questions about paternity and the dominant model of relationships. Consumerism and commodification also plays a central role—make note of the screens, computers, TVs and dating websites in the life of the lonely. What’s the common thread here? The Age of Loneliness is a film that spans generations, and can function as a call for all of us to reconnect with each other and the places we live for real. To turn away from the spectacle and instead build a better world, with purpose, meaning, friends and real community.
In the Arab-American neighbourhood outside of Chicago where director Assia Boundaoui grew up, most of her neighbours think they have been under surveillance for over a decade. While investigating their experiences, Assia uncovers hundreds of pages of Operation Vulgar Betrayal, FBI documents that prove her hometown was the subject of one of the largest counter-terrorism investigations ever conducted in the United States before September 2001. No arrests or links to terrorist activity were ever made from the operation. The Feeling of Being Watched follows the examination of why a community fell under blanket government surveillance, the government secrecy shrouding what happened, and why her community feels like they’re still being watched today.
The Garden tells the story of South Central Farm — a 14 acre community garden and urban farm located in Los Angeles, California, which was in operation between 1994 and 2006. The entire lot is evicted and demolished against overwhelming local support for the farm and also despite the community raising an incredible amount of money to purchase the land from the owner. The owner refuses to sell and the land is demolished and still sits vacant, unused…
The Gruen Effect is a biographical film of Victor Gruen, considered by some to be the grand architect of the modern shopping mall and pedestrian zone. His ideas about urban planning have led to cities that serve the new gods of consumption, developing concepts that have reshaped the modern world. But in perhaps the ultimate of ironies, a naïve Gruen initially envisioned shopping centres as utopian communal spaces that would bring people together. However, developers took these ideas to brood the emergence of suburbia and the new era of consumption that would come to define the post-war world. Viewed with a critical eye, and tracing the path from Gruen’s prewar Vienna, to the 1950s America, and back to Europe in 1968, The Gruen Effect can show the themes and translation errors that have come to define intensely colonising urban life, along with a disappointed Gruen appalled at the impact shopping centres have on communities.
With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990, Cuba’s economy collapsed. Imports of oil were cut by more than half and food by 80 percent. The Power Of Community tells of the hardships and struggles as well as the response during the collapse, explaining how the country transitioned from a highly mechanised, industrial agricultural system to one using organic methods of farming and local, urban gardens…
The Square follows the anti-government protest movement in Egypt through the eyes of six very different activists, starting in Tahrir Square in 2011, up until the 2013 coup d’état. The film follows the activists on a life-changing journey through the euphoria of victory into the uncertainties and dangers of the current military rule, where everything they fought for is now under threat or teetering in the balance. The Square becomes an immersive experience, transporting the viewer into the intense emotional drama and personal stories behind the revolts. It is an inspirational account of people asserting their rights, struggling against multiple forces—from a brutal army dictatorship willing to crush protesters with military tanks, to a corrupt Muslim Brotherhood using mosques to manipulate voters; a struggle unfinished, unfolding.
For more than three decades, transnational corporations have been busy buying up what used to be thought of and known as unbuyable—forests, oceans, public broadcast airwaves, important intellectual and cultural works. Before their commodification, these commons were recognised as things in common to all people, for the benefit of all people. In This Land is Our Land, author David Bollier confronts the free-market extremism of our age to show how commercial interests have been undermining the public interest for years, and how it’s become so normalised that we don’t even notice it anymore. By revealing the commons within the tradition of community engagement and the free exchange of ideas and information, This Land is Our Land shows how a bold new international movement is trying to reclaim the commons for the public good by modelling practical alternatives to the restrictive monopoly powers of corporate elites.
White Like Me, based on the work of acclaimed anti-racist educator and author Tim Wise, explores race and racism in the United States through the lens of whiteness and white privilege. In a stunning reassessment of the American ideal of meritocracy and claims that we’ve entered a post-racial society, Wise offers a fascinating look back at the race-based white entitlement programs that built the American middle class, and argues that our failure as a society to come to terms with this legacy of white privilege continues to perpetuate racial inequality and race-driven political resentments today.