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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 »
Beautiful, idealistic, and self-absorbed is no way to go through life--or is it?
This is a sympathetic portrait of the Black Bear commune, and you'll come away thinking that the founding members were incredibly lucky--not so much for living the free love communal lifestyle as for not being injured in the mix of idealistic self-absorption and do-it-yourself medical treatments (including midwifery) that characterized life there.
It's clear from the affection with which the founding members talk of each other that it was overall a great time for them, and there's obviously a strong bond that unites them still. Some left the commune to form nuclear families, get jobs, and educate their children.
What's frightening, though, is the stunning level of self-absorption that makes a few of the members fail to think at all about how these principles affected their children. "We were like our own tribe," recalls one boy (Aaron Marley), who ran through the trails and woods with the other kids and later got a crew cut to rebel. I guess there are no snakes or poison oak in the California woods. He later is handed off to a foster family in the commune when his mother went off to paint and find herself; when he wanted to live with a Native American woman nearby, his mother came back, called on his father (who was elsewhere), made a big stink, and got him back on the commune--though not, apparently, with her. So much for the "children have choices" idea.
In another story, though, a child is given a choice, and it's scary. Tesilya's story is the most frightening, and it's a good thing that she tells it so that the audience can see that she's alive and thriving as an editor today. The Shiva Lila cult, which supposedly "worships children," comes to the commune and starts to take it over. When the commune members drive them away, Tesilya is asked to choose and decides to go with her mother. She's FIVE! What would you do? As the cult wanders to the Philippines and India, working all the time on its stated mission of breaking parental bonds, her mother drifts away at some point and Tesilya's left with a bunch of other children, many of whom die of diphtheria (freedom from DPT shots must have been part of the freedoms of the commune). Eventually the cult makes its way to Oregon, and by chance she meets up with some of the Black Bear commune people, who welcome her with "We have been waiting for you. Where have you been?" Uh, she's maybe 10 at this point? (The film doesn't say.) "Glad to have you join us, or whatever." She obviously gets an education somehow, but as Aaron, the boy who later becomes a biochemist, says, "We (children) were pretty much lab rats for the adults" and their ideals.
One of the former cult members is quoted as saying something like "Wanting to save the world can be a huge ego trip." This film presents it all--the love and the self-absorption and the ego-tripping--and lets you make up your own mind.
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