Missouri filmmaker Sophek “Sean” Tounn is on the last leg of a three-year undertaking to help others think beyond preparing for a single-event disaster, and instead develop self-reliant skills to last a lifetime and embrace simple living.
Citing Hurricane Sandy as an example, Tounn said the modern way of living is not conducive to health or longevity. Many people have become too dependent on the government or others to help them survive a calamity.
“This film is about living in 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.
Never forgetting what he had read years earlier, 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.” Bunker was skeptical at first because he has been approached many times by producers simply looking for unusual material. When Bunker realized Tounn was sincerely interested in the lifestyle, he agreed to participate in the project.
Last year, Tounn began filming specialists in a range of homesteading topics all across America for “Beyond Off-Grid,” a documentary to inspire people to become self-sustaining. The film is comprised of five parts – 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 Secrets of a Survivalist program with host Rick Austin, author of the “Secret Garden of Survival.” Austin is featured in the documentary as an off-grid, permaculture expert, now in his third season of forest gardening.
To be truly free, Tounn said, people must live completely independent of the grid – including the food, electrical and water grid.
Although Austin grew up in the country 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 Appalachia. Austin said he began researching how ancient societies survived without electricity and refrigeration, relatively modern amenities.
“They did it for thousands of years,” Austin said of living without refrigeration. Meat still must be preserved, but that does not mean freezing or refrigerating.
Also on the radio program with Tounn, “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 more likely at about 25 percent overall, and 40 percent in areas such as Detroit, instead of the meager 10 percent reported officially.
“Government policies are only making it worse,” Matyas said.
Matyas said that unless people are growing their own food and establishing networks now with their neighbors to buy locally and in bulk, they may become nameless 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 still spends time gardening and canning produce.
Others in the film include Cody Crone, who lives off-grid in the Pacific Northwest and is known as Wranglerstar on YouTube. Crone said he has taken a holistic approach to beekeeping, forsaking the protective suit and smoke, and has never been stung.
Another participant is Scott Howard, CEO of Earthen Hand Natural Building, a company specializing in building homes of rammed earth, cobb or adobe gathered near construction sites rather than hauling in expensive, prefabricated materials. Even people who have no building experience can sculpt their own home, Howard said.
In another clip, permaculture expert Paul Wheaton of Permies.com, a large online forum site, said people are getting sick from high-tech solutions instead of using the low-tech remedies provided in nature.
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.’”
Bunker, author of several survival-related books, said most “preppers” store a supply of food and buy a generator with the mindset of “making it through to the end” of a calamity. Their idea is that life 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 for an event 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 way to get fresh water without any source of electricity.
“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 to donate to the project, visit www.BeyondOffGrid.com. 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.
Photos by Linda Holliday and courtesy of BeyondOffGrid.com