Driving through the heart of NoCal’s Emerald Triangle, even with windows rolled up and AC on, an unmistakable aromatic fragrance fills the car… I’m headed south on the 101 from last night’s screening at Humboldt State to the Redwood Playhouse in Garberville. Thanks to promo help from KMUD DJ John Hardin (listen to his August 28 interview with me), the playhouse fills up nicely as showtime approaches.
But the speakers are not producing sound. In a last ditch effort, tech guru Dan Miller lights a bundle of sage and waves it beseechingly over the sound board. Miraculously, only a few minutes later, the screening proceeds without a hitch.
Flash forward to early October, deep in western Illinois farm country. Energy-generating windmills tower over fields of recently harvested corn and soybeans. Just west of Kewanee, the Communal Studies Association’s annual conference is being held at Bishop Hill, a well-preserved 19th century Swedish religious commune. Here I have the pleasure of sharing the film with scholars of communes and intentional communities, past and present – anthropologists, historians, political theorists, religious studies scholars – alongside longtime members of communities across the spectrum from The Farm in Tennessee, to the Jesus People USA on the north side of Chicago, to the Amana Colonies in Iowa.
In the course of two days, these new colleagues give me a new perspective on my own film. CSA founder Don Pitzer finds in Hippie Family Values “a graphic illustration of the developmental process within communal groups that I call ‘developmental communalism’” which he and sixteen other scholars elaborated in the 1997 book America’s Communal Utopias.
Briefly, in contrast to a simplistic success-failure model for assessing intentional communities, the lens of developmental communalism “examines whole movements and how they change over time, from their idealistic origins to their communal stages, and beyond…The communes of the most vital historic and current movements are creatively engaged in a developmental process that both precedes and may extend well after their communal phase.” Moving into its fifth decade, the Ranch community faces the inevitable challenges posed by the succession of generations.