Armand Tufenkian ’10 and Tamer Hassan ’11 had no intention of jumping into “the real world” after graduation. Instead, they set out to document an alternative, which eventually brought them to the tiny town of Rutledge, Mo., (post office, general store, population 102) where, just beyond the cornfields, is a thriving network of “intentional communities.” In these communities—Sandhill Farm, Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, and Red Earth Farms—Tufenkian and Hassan shared living spaces, garden chores, and found much more than a compelling place to film a documentary.
“Intentional communities,” said Hassan, “are what makes sense.”
As a Colby senior Hassan was awarded a $10,000 Projects for Peace grant, given by philanthropist Kathryn Wasserman Davis. He proposed using film to reveal alternative ways of living to a mainstream audience.
The Colby project comes as the intentional-community movement is growing. Laird Schaub, one of the founding members of Sandhill Farm and executive secretary of the Fellowship for Intentional Communities, reports that in 1990 their network had a little more than 300 communities. By 2010 there were nearly 1,100 intentional communities in the network.
Both Hassan and Tufenkian first heard about intentional communities in their senior years of high school. Tufenkian’s English teacher had been to Twin Oaks in Virginia (an egalitarian community started in 1967), and Hassan’s psychology teacher had assigned Walden Two by B.F Skinner, a book that Twin Oaks is based on.
Intentional communities stayed with the pair well into college, and they decided to make a short documentary about Twin Oaks during the summer of 2010. They secured a grant from the Goldfarb Center and produced a piece called Family Business that describes life at the community.
This experience led to the Davis grant, and in the summer of 2011 the pair, along with Thomas Bollier ’11 (a friend who transferred from Colby) traveled across the country visiting several communities—including EcoVillage in Ithaca, New York, and Alpha Farm in Deadwood, Ore. But it was in the small town of Rutledge that they hit the jackpot.
Sandhill Farm is the oldest of the three communities they visited. In 1974 a few Carlton College graduates who wanted to replicate the intimate community setting they had in college set out for rural Missouri. They started a community of a dozen people, sharing money and food. Within biking distance of Sandhill is Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, which was started in 1997. Farther along is Red Earth Farms, an intentional community of homesteads.
To document the movement, Hassan, Tufenkian, and Bollier integrated themselves into the rhythm of the Missouri communities, living there for a week without picking up a camera. In the process they fell in love with the emphasis on community and sharing. But to show others what they were witnessing, they had to pull out the camera, which changed the dynamic. “When I have the camera I feel like an outsider,” said Tufenkian.
Back in Maine, sitting in front of their Macs for days on end in a Portland apartment, they set out to edit content about living outside the mainstream. The film includes clips of an oat harvest done with a tractor pulling a harvester, with close-ups of the oats falling into the collector. There’s a woman drying her laundry on a line at Red Earth Farms while enjoying the company of her daughter, who is on a swing close by. The harvester comments on the harvest as he works, and the woman explains her daughter’s sensitivity to nature, a sensitivity the mother had to learn herself after moving into community living.
While the film has the capacity to expose a wider audience to the little-known world of intentional communities, the impact of the communities on the three filmmakers, like the film itself, remains a work in progress. While enamored of the life they were part of, they have returned to the mainstream world—for now.
“We found these communities, and then I was thrown back into that [mainstream] world, in which success is the ultimate goal,” Hassan said. “That’s really disorienting, because it’s my parents, my friends, the college I went to—all of that is teaching me these things.”
Said Tufenkian, “This is a way of me connecting my ideas, my principles, what I believe in, with what I do.\”