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.