Eco-Movies Worth Watching: "Tiny"
Milestone birthdays can trigger the kind of big life decisions that make great fodder for movies. So, almost-30-year-old Christopher Smith stumbled into making a documentary about building a 130-square-foot home and the big-picture ethos behind the tiny house movement: Tiny.
Wrestling with those “Who do I want to be? How do I want to live?” questions on the cusp of his 30th spurred Smith’s impetuous purchase of a wide open space in Colorado. He just needed to put a house on it. In the pursuit of freedom, self-sufficiency, and in the interest of completing a DIY-home without any construction experience, he decided to build a tiny one.
As the project took shape, Smith’s girlfriend and co-builder Merete Mueller suggested they make a mini-movie about it. Two years and a successful Kickstarter campaign later, Tiny is now hitting the film-festival circuit as a full-length feature.
Tiny shows Smith starting and stumbling, learning to build his house from scratch — a smart phone playing an instructional video that directs him as he wires the house for electricity, a laptop playing an instructional video that directs him as he sews curtains for the windows.
The construction’s financially and technically driven fits and starts are interwoven with interviews with Smith’s family and with tiny-home owners from across the country. Between scenes of Smith discussing short funds and construction creeping well past his intended deadline, conversation soars to lofty explorations of home.
Tammy Strobel, who drove her 128-square-foot house from Oregon to California last summer, says less space and fewer things give her and her husband more time.
“It’s a non-renewable resource that you don’t get back.”
Strobel fills that time with people, she says, and in doing work she can afford to love. (Check out our Q-and-A with her.)
Tiny houser Dee Williams of Washington State moved from a 1,500-square-foot house to her current 86-square-foot one after she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
“I get this one shot at life, and I want it to mean something,” she says. “I wanted to be larger than the small person that I needed to be in my big house.”
The tiny housers mostly seem motivated by freedom. Re-evaluating the status quo and lightening their environmental load are just part of that pursuit.
Smith acknowledges that his path, owning a tiny house on a large plot of land, is not a sustainable panacea: “I know it’s a contradiction to own a piece of land out here because of the emptiness and put a house on it.”
Smith wants to lessen his impact on the earth, he says; Tiny is a small step to sharing that.
"Tiny" screened in San Francisco as a preview to the San Francisco Green Film Festival (SFGFF), which runs May 30 to June 5. Stay tuned to The Green Life this week for peeks at other environmentally focused films, some of which will also play during SFGFF.
Mackenzie Mount is an editorial intern at Sierra. She's cleaned toilets at Yellowstone National Park and studied sustainable cooking at The Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts in Austin, Texas.