×

Commune

Often mocked and rarely understood, the movement in communal living that blossomed with Flower Power in the '60s gets its most honest appraisal yet on film with Jonathan Berman's "Commune." A keen vet docu-maker's eye and a chronicler's compassion lends pic real resonance, and should attract distrib and tube love worldwide after a blissful fest life.

With:
With: Peter Coyote, Elsa Marley, Michael Tierra, Richard Marley, Creek Hanauer, Cedar Seegar, Martin Linhart, Peter Leaf, Osha Neumann, Kenori Oleari, Catherine Guerra, Geba Greenberg, Tesilya Hanauer, Allegra Bucker, Aaron Marley, Gridley Wright.

Often mocked and rarely understood, the movement in communal living that blossomed with Flower Power in the ’60s gets its most honest appraisal yet on film with Jonathan Berman’s “Commune.” Rather than taking on the phenomenon, Berman delves into the genesis and day-to-day reality of the Black Bear Ranch commune, one of the most radical and durable of such communities spread around the U.S. A keen vet docu-maker’s eye and a chronicler’s compassion lends pic real resonance, and should attract distrib and tube love worldwide after a blissful fest life.

“Commune” serves as an important polar opposite to the fine “The Same River Twice”; taken together, the two pics provide an emotional and reflective assessment of ’60s-style counterculture. But unlike the friends and lovers in “Same River,” who had a brief but memorable Colorado River trek and come together for a reunion, the folks in “Commune” threw themselves body and soul into a longterm commitment to shared group living in one of California’s most remote forests.

Berman’s subjects generally don’t look back upon their life choices as those of a long-distant youth — as the people in “Same River” often do — but as the first phase of an alternative life than continues to this day.

In 1968, Black Bear co-founder Elsa Marley, now a college art professor and painter, hatched the slogan “free land for a free people,” and ignited interest among hippies, intellectuals and young people who wanted to connect with the land and reinvent a small agrarian society. “We tried,” says original Black Bear-ite and thesp Peter Coyote, “to create an alternative culture.”

Like tales of how movies are made, pic’s early discussions revolve around how cash was raised to pay for and organize the commune, which included pitching sympathetic stars like James Coburn (a pitch which incongruously featured a flag burning).

Judging by the wide-ranging, eclectic and generously provided comments by the many residents who speak to Berman’s camera, the practical needs of providing for a community starting from scratch trumped theoretical niceties of pure communalism. Yet pic leaves no doubt Black Bear was a largely successful experiment in Marx’s credo of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Hardships of weather and scarcity forged intense bonds that gave the commune its staying power when many others in the country faded away.

Fortunately, Berman isn’t tempted to play up too many of the personal dramas, though he’s interested in how the community was sometimes torn between those who wanted more individualism and those who wanted the group above all, as well as the ever-present gender divide.

“Commune” takes on further poignancy when the Black Bear kids emerge with their own memories and stories, including a hair-raising adventure experienced by Creek Hanauer’s daughter, Tesilya. Some of these kids still live and work on the commune, continuing their aging parents’ legacy; others, such as Aaron, son of Elsa and Richard Marley, want nothing more to do with it.

Pic forms a fluid intertwining of present-day interviews and docu footage and past archival work (including homevid lensed on the ranch in the late ’60s) which reinforces the sense that the old commune and the new one are one and the same. Elliott Sharp crafts a lovely slide-guitar score.

Commune

Production: A Five Points Media presentation. (U.S. sales: Submarine, New York.) Produced by Jonathan Berman. Co-producer, Zed Frick. Directed by Jonathan Berman.

Crew: A correction was made to these credits on March 4, 2005. Camera (color/B&W), Alan Deutsch, Tamas Bojtor; editors, Michael Taylor, Marisa Simpson; music, Elliott Sharp; sound (Dolby Digital), Richard Fairbanks. Reviewed at Slamdance Film Festival, Jan. 24, 2005. (Also in Berlin Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 78 MIN.

With: With: Peter Coyote, Elsa Marley, Michael Tierra, Richard Marley, Creek Hanauer, Cedar Seegar, Martin Linhart, Peter Leaf, Osha Neumann, Kenori Oleari, Catherine Guerra, Geba Greenberg, Tesilya Hanauer, Allegra Bucker, Aaron Marley, Gridley Wright.

More Film

  • Dua LipaVariety Hitmakers Brunch, Portraits, Los

    'Alita: Battle Angel' to Feature New Song by Dua Lipa

    Robert Rodriguez’s “Alita: Battle Angel” will feature a new song by Dua Lipa. “Swan Song,” co-written by Justin Tranter, Kennedi Lykken, Mattias Larsson, Robin Fredriksson and Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL), in addition to Dua Lipa, will drop ahead of the film’s U.S. opening on Feb. 14. The Twentieth Century Fox action-adventure movie was produced by James Cameron and Jon Landau [...]

  • Les Arcs Festival Unveil Prizes For

    'System Crasher,' 'White on White' Win Work-In-Progress Awards at Les Arcs

    Nora Fingscheidt’s “System Crasher” and Theo Court’s “White on White” won the top prizes at Les Arcs Film Festival’s Work-in-Progress session. Both titles were among the 18 films in post-production pitched during the 10th edition of the Work-in-Progress showcase which is spearheaded by Frederic Boyer, the artistic director of Les Arcs and Tribeca festivals. “System [...]

  • Actress Shirley MacLaine poses at the

    Shirley MacLaine Selected for AARP Career Achievement Award

    Shirley MacLaine has been selected as the recipient of the AARP’s 2018 Movies for Grownups Career Achievement Award. MacLaine will be honored at the 18th annual Movies for Grownups Awards ceremony on Feb. 4 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. MacLaine has credits on more than 50 feature films, won a best [...]

  • 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette' Trailer: Cate

    Cate Blanchett Disappears in 'Where’d You Go, Bernadette' First Trailer

    Cate Blanchett goes missing in the first trailer for Richard Linklater’s latest film, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.” Based on Maria Semple’s 2012 novel, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” follows agoraphobic architect Bernadette Fox (Blanchett), who disappears just before a family trip to Antarctica. “Something unexpected has come up,” Blanchett’s character says on the phone. “It has much [...]

  • Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman in

    'The Favourite' Leads London Critics' Circle Nominations

    Yorgos Lanthimos’ dark historical comedy “The Favourite” lived up to its title with the London Film Critics’ Circle on Tuesday, nabbing 10 awards nominations from the group – twice as many as its nearest rivals. Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma,” Lynne Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really Here,” Rupert Everett’s “The Happy Prince” and Pawel Pawlikowski’s European Film [...]

  • Picture Tree Intl. Rolls Out Pre-Sales

    Berlin: Picture Tree Intl. Rolls Out Pre-Sales on B.O. Hit ‘100 Things’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    MADRID — In the long run-up to February’s Berlin Festival, Picture Tree Intl. has rolled out multiple pre-sales on “100 Things,” which Warner Bros. Pictures bowed in Germany on Dec. 6 to a robust first eight-day €2.7 million ($3.07 million). “100 Things” will receive a market screening at the Berlinale’s European Film Market. The third [...]

  • Mid 90s

    Jonah Hill's 'mid90s,' Pauline Kael Documentary to Screen in Berlin's Panorama Section

    Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, “mid90s,” about a 13-year-old skateboarder’s coming of age, and a documentary on influential film critic Pauline Kael are among the works that will screen in the Panorama section of the upcoming Berlin Film Festival. Films starring Tilda Swinton and Jamie Bell and titles from countries including Israel, Brazil and Japan were [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content