Missouri filmmaker Sophek “Sean” Tounn is on the last leg of a three-year-long undertaking to help others think beyond preparing for a single-event disaster, and instead develop self-reliant skills to last a lifetime.
Using Hurricane Sandy as an example, Tounn said the modern way of living is not conducive to health or longevity because people have become too dependent on the government or others helping them survive a calamity.
“This film is about living is such a way that we’re less dependent on outside entities,” Tounn said.
Tounn’s interest in survival, homesteading, permaculture and off-grid living was stirred about eight years ago when he came upon a 150-page book, “Henry and the Great Society,” a fictional account of how a family’s happy life is destroyed after connecting to the grid and becoming consumers – unhappy, unhealthy, debt-ridden, overworked and dependent.
In 2010, Tounn contacted agrarian author Michael Bunker about the possibility of a film that would include aspects of Bunker’s book, “Surviving Off Off-Grid: Decolonizing the Industrial Mind.” Tounn said Bunker was skeptical at first because he is approached often by producers who are simply looking for material. When Bunker realized Tounn was sincerely interested in the lifestyle, he agreed to be part of the project.
Then, late last year, Tounn began rounding up and filming experts in a range of homesteading topics nationwide for Beyond Off-Grid, a documentary to help people become self-sustaining. The film is comprised of five major sections – family, food, history, natural building and water.
“People think of water as an unlimited resource, but they don’t realize how it is controlled by only about 10 major corporations,” Tounn said on a recent Preparedness Radio Network survivalist program with host Rick Austin, author of the Secret Garden of Survival. Austin will be featured in the film as a permaculture expert.
To be truly free, Tounn said, people must live independently of the grid – including the food, electrical and water grids.
Austin said that although he grew up in the country with an apple orchard and has gardened most of his life, he didn’t have all the skills he needed when he embarked on an off-grid lifestyle in the Appalachian Mountains. So, he began researching how the old-timers survived without electricity and refrigeration, relatively modern amenities.
“They did it for hundreds of thousands of years,” Austin said, explaining how he is actively acquiring the skills to live off-grid, including growing food in a forest.
Beyond Off-Grid executive producer Jason Matyas, founder of True Food Solutions, said he believes the United States is in a slow economic collapse that could accelerate at any time. Unemployment is likely at about 25 percent overall, and 40 percent in areas such as Detroit.
“Government policies are only making it worse,” Matyas said.
Matyas said that unless people are growing their own food and establishing networks with their neighbors for buying locally and in bulk, they could become victims in a catastrophe. It does not matter how much gold you have, if you can’t grow your own food, he said.
“If you opt for convenience over the work it takes to be self-reliant, you will forever be a slave to the system,” Austin added, explaining how some have questioned why he insists on gardening and canning produce.
Others in the film, which is slated to be released in December or early 2014, include Cody Crone, who lives with his family off-grid in the Pacific Northwest. Crone, also known as Wranglerstar on YouTube, has taken a holistic approach to beekeeping, forsaking the protective suit and smoke.
Another participant is Scott Howard, CEO of Earthen Hand Natural Building, a company specializing in building with rammed earth, cobb or adobe gathered near the construction site rather than shipping in expensive, manufactured materials. Even people who have no building experience can sculpt their own house, Howard said in an online video clip.
In another clip, permaculture expert Paul Wheaton of Permies.com, an online forum site, said people are getting sick from high-tech solutions. Instead, low-technology solutions from nature are needed.
Author Marjory Wildcraft, a former financial consultant who traveled the world to speak with survivors of economic collapse, also will be featured in the film. Wildcraft will speak about how economic collapse created the world’s leader in urban sustainable agriculture – the Cuban experience. She also will go into the patterns of how collapse unfolds (interviews with modern collapse survivors from Cuba, Argentina, and Romania).
“Many people turn toward prepping and self-reliance out of concern for possible collapse,” Wildcraft said. “But really, this is a lifestyle that is ultimately the wisest choice for humanity. I've found greater and greater satisfaction and joy the more I let go of dependencies on ‘the system.’”
The film also features John and Christine Sellers, a couple who became interested in preparedness several years ago. Relating how they bought a truck when gasoline was 90 cents per gallon, and then watched fuel prices jump to more than $3 per gallon, Christine Sellers said, “I didn’t get a 400 percent raise.”
Bunker, who has authored several survival-related books, said most “preppers” store a supply of food and buy a generator with the idea of “making it through to the end” of a calamity. Their idea is that things will eventually return to normal, he said.
That line of thinking is consumer-based rather than production-based, Bunker said, explaining the huge difference between prepping and practicing a lifestyle of production.
As one of the participants, my husband, Darren, was filmed here in May. He related how many people also overlook the need to have a reliable source of fresh water.
“People will spend thousands of dollars on a micro-grid system to run their whole house,” Darren said, “but will spend as little as possible for a manual water pump. Yet, water is critically more important than convenience and gadgets.”
The film is set to be released at the end of the year or early 2014 depending on funding. Presenting it to the public is a mission fulfilled for Tounn.
“I just want people to know, the old-path way might be hard at first, but look toward the future — the future of your children, your community, your country,” Tounn said. “A stronger bond with family and more a peaceful way of life are reasons enough to explore this way of living.”
In the last month of filming, participants include homesteader Noah Sanders, cultural analyst Geoff Botkin and precious metals expert Franklin Sanders. To learn more about the film, see video segments or donate to the project. To see more photos, visit our blog. Also, you can read my first blog on Mother Earth News about this exciting project. Donate $30 or more to help complete the film on time, and you’ll get a copy of the DVD in the mail.
Linda Holliday lives in the Missouri Ozarks where she and her husband formed Well WaterBoy Products, a company devoted to producing products for off-grid living.
Photos by Linda Holliday and courtesy of Beyond Off Grid.