Arts Review, Movies
Jonathan Taggart, director, co-story & co-script w/Phillip Vannini, producer and on-screen presence.
Film fans are used to seeing films produced by MGM and Universal and Fox. In Canada, seeing credits for Mongrel Media and EOne are not uncommon. But it is unique to see a film—even a doc—that has as its opening credit the Social Sciences and Research Council (SSHRC). If you haven’t spent time with academics, you won’t have heard of SSHRC—pronounced ‘sherk.’ It’s the main funding body for post-graduate research, commonly used to produce a doctoral thesis or a scholarly book.
Life Off Grid is a unique item. I’ve been watching docs for decades and have never seen SSHRC listed as the main funder—de facto the producer—on anything cinematic before this new film by Jonathan Taggart and Phillip Vannini. A bit of investigation shows that Taggart is a lecturer at the Royal Roads University in Victoria, BC where Vannini is a professor in the Communications and Culture Department. SSHRC has supported Vannini’s book Off the Grid: Re-assembling Domestic Life, which is the basis of the Taggart film.
Given the academic backgrounds of its two main creators, it’s no surprise that Life Off-Grid is more impressive for its ideas than for its characters or scenes. Absolutely sincere in its approach, the doc takes us through every Canadian province as well as the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut to show that at least a handful of Canadians are living without conventional power everywhere in this country.
That’s a revelation and for those of us who believe that we’ll only survive as a species if people start learning how to live with natural fuels and a recyclable life-style, it’s lovely to see a film that confirms that some people are already doing it. Through Vannini, the film’s investigative voice, we meet mainly aging couples and single males (and two women) who have figured out how to use solar power and natural tools to construct houses and genuinely live in a sustainable way.
Life Off-Grid is a film that’s easy to endorse if you believe, as I do, in the necessity to create better and “greener” ways for us to live in the world. But…and I suspect you’d know that there’d be a “but”…the film is very slow paced and mainly consists of interviews. It’s an accompaniment to a research project, not a wildly cinematic doc. By all means, go to see Life Off-Grid for its useful content but don’t expect a scintillating evening of cinema.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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