Reel NW/Back to the Garden
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About the Film
In the sixties they were satirized and vilified for rejecting materialism and corporate culture, in the seventies they stopped the war, started communes, urged back to the land and environmental sustainability … but by the eighties they had virtually disappeared from everyday life.
So where did all the “flowers” go?
In 1988—nearly twenty years after Woodstock-Seattle filmmaker Kevin Tomlinson asked himself that question while interviewing a group of back-to-the-land hippies at a backcountry healing gathering in Washington State.
He found small embers of sixties dropouts were still intact and thriving contrary to popular belief and were raising families while refining their hippie idealism—independent of a mass culture that had marginalized and all but forgotten them.
Doubtful about how seriously this would be viewed in 1988, the footage sat untouched but not forgotten for almost 20 years.
In 2006, Tomlinson took another look. What these off-grid Hippies were talking about in 1988—sustainability, living simpler, sustainable lives, love for the earth, questioning authority, self-reliance, and community responsibility—seemed to be blossoming with incredible force and coming full circle 20 years later as the impact of climate change, an unpopular war, shopping-as-patriotism and the green movement took center stage in mainstream discussion.
He set out to find his original subjects again with new questions. Had their radical off-grid lifestyles and ideals survived? Had anyone gone mainstream? What about their children—how did they rebel against the rebel generation?
The adventure that followed offers profound, moving insights into one of the most iconic social movements of our time—and speaks to all of us who grew up then or were affected by sixties counterculture.
The non-conformist lifestyles of these aging back-to-the-landers and their now-thriving families, firmly insulated from global economic shocks, today looks ahead of its time and wiser than ever.
Back in 1988 I took a road trip that led me on a strange journey. By chance, I saw a funky poster advertising a Healing Gathering in rural Washington State. Curious to meet this community of backcountry hippies twenty years after Woodstock, I decided to go.
Upon arrival, I felt transported, finding myself among magic buses and tepees in a meadow filled with beaded flower children communing with nature. I shot hours of dancing, drumming, singing and celebration. I recorded extensive interviews with some of the most genuine, sincere beings I’d ever met.
With no plans for the material at the time and skeptical how it would be received during the Reagan/Bush years, the project was shelved. But it didn’t sit quietly. The images wouldn’t let go.
18 years later I asked myself, where have all the “flowers” gone?
So I began a new journey, a journey to find what had happened to all the dreams of getting back to the land, setting one’s soul free and environmental utopia. How had they survived living off-grid and below the poverty level for years? Had anyone changed course and gone mainstream? What had become of their dreams of self-reliance, simplicity, and freedom? And how did their children (now in their twenties) feel about their own “Hippie Kid” upbringings?
Not so long ago, those “Hippie” communities and their values were considered way too radical and fringe by the mainstream. Today, the Green Movement, looking to protect the earth for future generations, is wholeheartedly embracing them.
Back to the Garden presents a time-lapse view—twenty years in the lives of a group of idealist baby boomers who rejected and dropped out of the mainstream, who went back to the land, overcoming many personal sacrifices in pursuit of their dreams. It’s also a story about the personal consequences of those radical dreams and choices. Not only is this their story, but ours too, because the counterculture of the sixties affected all of us and forever changed our ideas about how we define love, wealth, spirituality and freedom.
The Reel NW Connection
Reel NW focuses on the very best of independent film from the Northwest. Every week, Reel NW airs intriguing films from, or about, our own community. Kevin Tomlinson has been an independent Seattle-based producer, director and cinematographer for over 25 years. He currently shoots documentary and corporate programs for Microsoft, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and non-profit organizations Bridges to Understanding and Interplast. Kevin has taught filmmaking at the Seattle Film Institute and digital video and documentary production at 911 Media Arts since 2004.