Commune

Commune

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Bill O’Reilly would call them secular progressives: people who believe that our American way of life is fundamentally flawed. They are the participants in the Black Bear Ranch, a utopian community that began in the early 1970s as a means for young men and women to get away from the pull of phony American values. Financed in part by celebrity interests and predicated on the idea of “Free Land for Free People,” Black Bear Ranch began as a naïve social experiment but grew into something profound and illuminating for the participants who weathered the storm of its difficult first years. Director Jonathan Berman gathers participants of Black Bear Ranch, including actor Peter Coyote and founder Elsa Marley, to reminisce about their experiences at the commune over the years, covering everything from the ecstasy of random hookups to the controversy of the nomadic child-worshiping Shiva Lila group. The documentary is loose-limbed and not at all artful—which is to say, it’s scarcely bourgeois and just as the Black Bear Ranch people would like it. It does have focus and Berman neatly traces how the older generation’s struggles not to fall for the outside world’s hegemonic values was a healthy thing for their children, who were all born into an atmosphere of unconditional love. Most of these men and women would leave Black Bear Ranch with great trepidation and fear but with a sense that they had learned everything they could and that it was time to fulfill themselves as individuals. This is not to say that they ever stopped letting their freak flag fly (today, Cedar and Mahaj Seegar farm dwarf citrus trees!), and this point is what makes Commune particularly comforting, especially for young lefties worried that their compassionate politics will dull as they grow older.

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DVD
Runtime
78 min
Rating
NR
Year
2005
Director
Jonathan Berman
Screenwriter
Jonathan Berman
Cast
Peter Coyote, Geba Greenberg, Elsa Marley, Osha Neumann, Kenoli Oleari, Cedar Seeger, Mahaj Seeger, Harriet Beinfield, Michael Tierra