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In the late 1960s, a few free thinkers cobbled together donations, primarily from Hollywood, to buy 80 acres at the end of a dirt road in Siskiyou County, California: Big Bear Ranch, a commune with the motto "free land for free people." Archival footage, photographs, documents and news articles, and interviews with people who lived or still live there tell the commune's history: the cold first winter, women and men doing the same work, communal decision making, emerging environmental politics, free love and family formation, child rearing and memories of growing up there, a late 70's crisis with a cult-like group that moved in, and assessment by those grown old of what Big Bear meant.Written by
In the news reports in the film, it is said that the Vietnam War has just finished, which occurred in 1975. However, Pol Pot is mentioned several times in the news before this announcement. Pol Pot did not become leader of Cambodia until October 1976, and he was largely unknown in Europe at the time that the Vietnam War ended. See more »
This is a documentary about one of the many communes that began in the late 60-early 70s and is one of the few to survive to this day. Like most, it began with a group of idealistic hippies who wanted to change the world and redefine society and norms. In some ways, by the time the film ends, so many of these idealists are, in a sense, "the man"--having abandoned the commune as well as some or many of their ideals. People who were all in favor of "free love" and no possessions now were married and had real jobs and real homes--though a few stuck with the commune to the time the documentary was made.
While all this was rather fascinating, at times it also felt a bit scary. On one hand, much of what these people did wasn't morally right or wrong--just very different. However, some of their behaviors as the commune continued through the years really made me feel very uncomfortable. At first, running around naked, making love with practically everyone and having few cares sounded all well and good, but as a result of all this, lots of children were born and they were raised, in many ways, like miniature adults. Children, it seemed, were able to make adult decisions as their parents felt it was too confining and bourgeois to inhibit them in any way. This plus the constant in and outflow of members (including a creepy cult that "worshipped kids") made me wonder whether sexual abuse was rife in this environment. While none of this was addressed in the film (a very odd omission, by the way), it did interview many of these kids. Some seemed happy and well adjusted and others seemed rather angry about this permissive environment--though, unexpectedly, they also seemed reasonably well adjusted--at least on film. Still, it was a very interesting film about a part of America that is very seldom talked about.
As for me, with my background psychology and sociology, I found that the film was also very frustrating for me personally. I would LOVE to see a followup film that explores the emotional and psychological implications of communal living--not only the dangers but the potential benefits. I sure know that with my rather straight-laced and traditional life it isn't something I want for myself, but I'd like to see just how it effected everyone (not just the ones interviewed in the film)--sort of like a giant psychosocial experiment. After all, while this is in some ways a great system, over time they almost always fail or fade in popularity--why and how could they be run more successfully are questions that come to mind.
FYI--not surprisingly, this film contains a lot of explicit nudity. It isn't sexy or prurient, but parents might want to think it over before letting younger viewers see it.
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