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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Commune An Alternative Lifestyle Community Documentary

In 1968 the Black Bear Ranch was founded in the remote woods of Northern California. Largely funded by celebrity donations, the 80 acres of land was completely paid for allowing people to live on the land for free. The timing was perfect, this was 1968 when throngs of people (hippies I suppose)wanted to escape societal norms established in the cities and suburbs and create a more utopian society. The Black Bear Ranch provided this through communal living, few rules and lots of free love.

Jonathan Berman wrote and directed “Commune”. Commune is a documentary about life on the Black Bear Ranch. Berman uses some really great preserved footage depicting life, very candidly, as it was on Black Bear Ranch back in the 60’s and 70’s. Much of the footage is in color and of good enough quality that you really feel like you are on the ranch back in those interesting times.

Berman interviews the residents of Black Bear Ranch in the present day and juxtapositions those interviews with film footage from when the residents lived at the ranch decades ago. I’m not sure if it is a credit to Berman’s interview style or if he just found all the right people, but I was impressed by the unapologetic honesty of everyone he spoke with. There is great candor when people discuss their exploits with one another on the ranch. These are people who ate, slept, loved, gave birth, worked and bathed all in the same space. Even decades later they feel no regret for their lifestyle back then. They are very much proud of it and how it helped shape them as human beings today.

Jonathan Berman presents “Commune” through an impartial lens. He neither glorifies the ranch, nor does he criticize it. He doesn’t need to. The Black Bear Ranch is not some decadent nudist colony or luxury shabby-sheik lodge where people are just taking a vacation. These are not people who pretend to be building something but are really just taking a moment to hide from life. Living on the ranch meant total dedication to producing something every day. Life on the Ranch was very isolated particularly in winter months. It required hard, hard work from both the men and the woman. This was not a place festered with drugs or alcohol. It was a place that required great dedication and community. Sure, there is decadence thrown in from time to time but survival on the ranch required dedication, community and love, something the residence succeeded at for years.
“Commune” is an immensely honest film and a story of an alternative living community that actually seemed to work without coming to some predictable end.  

If you like documentaries about people who pack up their bags to live completely different from others, you’ll like this film. I enjoyed it.


78 min

Rated R

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