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Films

Tackling a difficult problem Boldly.  By Dean Puckett

As a filmmaker, it's a rare privilege to stumble upon a completely unique  story - in this case, a motley collection of land rights activists  squatting a 3 acre piece of  land in the heart of suburban London.

But when I began filming on the 6th of June 2009, I had no  idea what I was getting myself into. For the first few weeks, when I  visited and filmed Kew Bridge Eco-Village for a few days at a time, I  had a sense  that my footage was only skimming the surface of the forces and  characters behind this fledgeling movement.  Other journalists  who visited the site for a day or a few hours left with great   sound-bites about sustainability and land rights, but there was  something we were all missing.

There  was an intoxicating energy  about  the  place, a sense of freedom from a system which many of us recognise is  unequal and destructive. Yet this rag-tag bunch of occupiers defied  conventional stereotypes of the 'ecowarrior'. Most of them were ordinary  people from different walks of life - some were students, others were  former professionals. And they had come together to not simply occupy a  piece of land, but to transform it, bit by bit - in an exciting and  unnerving sense, creating their  own reality outside the system. I wanted to truly understand this  emerging hotbed of radical practice that was both outside and inside  wider society, the people involved, and the way they understood what  they were doing. 

And the more I filmed, the more faultlines began to appear.  Despite promoting a radical alternative to modern  industrial capitalism, the village was inevitably and intrinsically  linked to the wider city,  including the capitalist system.  Disruptive  characters from the city streets - alcoholics, drug-addicts, the  homeless, victims of the system, themselves, or both - would enter and  sometimes even settle in the village. And I would watch, enthralled , as  the village's little community frequently struggled in anguish to  understand how to  deal with  the friction between idealism and reality. 

There was certainly more to this movement than meets the  eye, and my occasional filming as a visitor could only bring so much  insight into this community's day-to-day struggles with government, big  business - and itself.

So I moved in.

Photo animation 'tour' of Kew bridge eco village

I joined people going 'skipping' - collecting food from  rubbish bins to feed  each other. I watched vegetables being planted in bed boxes and  tyres. I  filmed activsts building clean and cosy living spaces from sustainable  sources. Later, I camped in the Eco-Village's successor, the Democracy  Village in Parliament Square, where I climbed up buildings to drop  banners calling for British troops to be brought home safely from the  war in Afghanistan.

I found myself  opening  a window into a world I'd never seen  or imagined before - and slowly  warming to the idea  that this was, perhaps, how I wanted to live. I wanted  to contribute to  the community. In the process, I got to know an  ex-MI5  whistleblower  who  believed he was Jesus and dressed up as a  transvestite; was  inspired by visionaries who were sincere and articulate in their  thoughts and ideas  about how we could create a better world; was bemused by activists whose  hopes for a better world were inseparable from, to me, bizarre  theories; and was accused by one eco-villager of  being an  undercover police officer! So when I condensed my hundreds of hours of  footage into a film, I  wanted  the audience  to feel the way I did when I when I was there:  inspired,  in awe, freaked out, alienated, out of my  depth.

These  inspirations,  absurdities and eccentricities were a complex mosaic of the human  struggle to create meaning in a world that often makes little sense.  Warts and all, the film captures the reality of life for a group of  people disillusioned with a mainstream consumer society whose values and  culture threaten to bring the planet to a  point of irreversible destruction. As such, it's a film about activism,  idealism, homelessness and insanity. As one of the most articulate  characters, Simon, says during the final  days of the Democracy Village outside the Houses of Parliament in  Westminster, "Despite the troubles and the madness, this is  very powerful: people are standing up and speaking out."

 

 

A year and three months later I find myself with 200 hours of  footage, and at the tail-end of a journey which quite literally changed  my life. Having lived this experience so intimately - sometimes  beautiful and exciting, other times competely crazy - it was a  challenge to bottle its essence into a 90 minute film.

I learned that  the  truth is often a loose and fluid animal, and that images can be  deceiving - which is why the very experience of moving in and making the  film had to be an  element to the stor


In his seminal philosophical essay, 'The myth of Sysipus', Albert Camus  writes about a mythical figure, Sysipus, damned to repeatedly push a  bolder up  a hill, only to watch it roll down again, for eternity. Camus asks a  perennial question: is life  worth living, given that it is ultimately as absurd and pointless as  the plight of Sysipus? He concludes that although life is absurd, often  yielding the same results, we create meaning through the very process of  struggle  itself, through the way we choose to play life's game.

In  the spirit of Camus' reflections, this film throws  up  an array of questions - not just, what is the point  of activism?; but  even, what is the point of life, of any struggle, that can often seem  futile? As the characters learn to let go of  outcomes and find meaning in their struggle, I hope that you as a  viewer  can too.