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Among the garbage and the flowers

by Archives October 7, 2008

A collection of empty beer cans, water bottles and car tires don’t seem an offhand start towards an entirely sustainable lifestyle, but for off-gridder Michael Reynolds, this “junk pile” has kept him warm for over 20 years – not to mention he hasn’t paid one heating bill in all that time.
Sitting in his greenhouse in the New Mexico desert, eating the vegetables he grew himself, Reynolds is the subject of Oliver Hodge’s eco-doc Garbage Warrior, which played at Cinema Politica last week.
While Al Gore talks the talk about global warming, Reynolds walks the walk by building and promoting self-sustainable living wherever he goes – speaking with eloquent urgency, and regretfully describing how easy it would be for the average person to “live off the grid” independently.
Hodge portrays Reynolds as a modern-day environmental Messiah, and duly so, for the proof of his success is both fascinating and angering. We find out that a bill he’s proposing, one that would allow people to apply self-sustainability measures after a natural disaster, was canned not once but twice. Apparently, the financial ramifications would be too taxing for the local businesses that provide electricity and water to these communities.
Although this eco-warrior encounters hostile politicians wherever he goes, his eccentric disposition and visionary ideas are embraced abroad. In 2005, he traveled to the Andaman Islands, a region heavily decimated by the 2004 tsunami. It was the perfect area for Reynolds and his team to build their “earthships.” Children are paid to gather plastic bottles and the locals are taught how to build and manage these seemingly futuristic-looking houses. Within days the craft is passed on, and the villagers’ joy can hardly be contained.
Prior to screening Garbage Warrior, Cinema Politica slipped in a tiny gem with an 11-minute documentary called Still Lives. It was directed by Concordia film grad Anna Sarkissian during her volunteer stint in New Orleans a year ago. Sarkissian shows that the post-disaster clean up is the most painful part; locals and volunteers stand knee-deep in rotting garbage.
Next week at Cinema Politica, there is a screening of the must-see observational documentary The Real Dirt on Farmer John, which is about a determined farmer who overcame loss and prejudice in rural Illinois.
Growing up on a Midwestern farm, John Peterson inherited his father’s business and values after his death. Forced to sell most of the farmland and equipment, immense guilt overcomes Peterson for forfeiting the land that his grandfather preserved during the Great Depression.
Some moments are pretty bleak, but this heart-warming documentary shows us just how far one man went to get it all back: the land, the respect, and the courage to keep going. Granted, towards the end, The Real Dirt on Farmer John tends to play like an extended infomercial for Peterson’s new company, Angelic Organics. Still, if the film plays up his attempts to rebuild his heritage, it’s hard to really fault the director.
Peterson asks, “what do you do when nothing is left?”
You get yourself dirty and start over.

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