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The Green Life: Movie Review Friday: Back to the Garden

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August 26, 2011

Movie Review Friday: Back to the Garden

Escape to the movies with one of our Movie Review Friday selections. Each week we review a film with an environmental theme. Seen a good eco-flick lately? Send us a short review and look for it in the next Movie Review Friday.

Back to the Garden (2009)

Available on DVD

In 1988, a young Seattle filmmaker took a road trip. In Eastern Washington’s backcountry, he found what seemed like a nearly extinct breed: flower children.

Director Kevin Tomlinson had wandered into a convening of the group Healing Gathering. Twenty years after Woodstock, here was a community of people dedicated to living off the grid, growing their own food, and pursuing values that had little to do with money. They were blissed out, and Tomlinson was smitten. But when he screened the footage with friends back in 1988, it seemed cliché and strangely out of sync. So the idyllic scenes languished in boxes in Tomlinson’s basement. Even though he wasn’t sure where to go with the film, he couldn’t quite let go of the ephemeral images he captured on those sunny, pastoral slopes.

In 2005, contemplating a new project with producer Judy Kaplan, the two revisited the footage and decided to try to find some of Healing Gathering's original members. They wanted to learn what had happened to these hard-core hippies so dedicated that their ethos survived even during the indulgent 1980s. Their message now seemed prescient — the notion of reduced consumerism and investing in a grassroots, holistic lifestyle was top of mind. Did these “hippie” values stand the test of time, or did they just fold right back into the cultural fabric?

Tomlinson and Kaplan took a new road trip, beginning in Tonasket, Washington. They got in touch with Jerry Bartels, one of those originally interviewed, who welcomed the idea for a second interview and suggested that Tomlinson and Kaplan attend the 2006 Barter Faire, which turned out to be an open door for the filmmakers. After going, Tomlinson said, “This community of people I met somehow stuck it out, assimilated into their small, rural, and conservative communities. They have become respected role models as organic farmers, teachers, community organizers, and political activists.”

This 70-minute documentary is more than just magic buses and teepees in meadows. It is a heartfelt and poignant examination of past values that are relevant to present needs. It is about where these lives went and what we may each take “back to the garden.”

--Pamela Biery

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