Life Off Grid (2015)
Directed by Jonathan Taggart
Living Without Connection
By Mason Manuel
Whenever my parents took me as a kid to my Grandma’s out in the country I was absolutely miserable. There was nothing to do, no video games, and it smelled like old people. I was hard pressed to find anything to love about being away from modern civilization. However, that’s exactly what Jonathan Taggart’s Life Off Grid sets off to do. We are taken to some of the most isolated areas of Canada to see how people survive without the comforts of everything being readily available by society. But these do-it-themselvers aren’t Bear Grylls survivor people that can make a shopping mall out of a toothpick. This film shows exactly who they are – ordinary people who never forget that the Earth is a finite resource.
Life Off Grid is a documentary that follows the story of a number of individuals living in rural parts of Canada who have learned how to provide for themselves from the ground up. We start with one man being interviewed on the state of his house which he built himself. When asked what kind of design he used he simply replies that there is no design. He laid the foundation, cut down the trees, and set to making a house that looked good in his head. This sounds ridiculous until you see the house which looks pretty normal all things considered. These people don’t live in huts like cave people. They have electricity and plumbing, jobs and families. Taggart focuses on telling us the story much like building a house himself; we start with the actual construction of a living area, then things move on to necessities like food and water, and later we see the social and personal effects of living in such a way. It’s a good strategy so that it always feels like a lesson is being taught, but depending on your interest in being self-sufficient in the most literal sense of the words you may or may not find yourself drifting by the halfway mark. From a personal standpoint, I am more than happy to live off the spoils of living where everything is readily available and began to find one of the off-griders speech on how they recycle waste a bit slow. After an hour of learning about all the different ways these people live with their lifestyle, you’re either invested in the story or you’re not. If you enjoy being mindful of your impact on the planet and want to learn how to do more, Life Off Grid is for you. For others, it will get slow after the initial wonder wears off.
Aesthetically, the film is beautiful. Taggart expertly captures the beauty of the Canadian country. As the sun glistens off of the half melted snow, even the most society dependent people (myself included) would have a hard time not seeing the appeal of living in such a place. Establishing shots of the houses and energy farms the off-griders have constructed for themselves are portrayed in a way that is uniquely attractive. In a way, that is the true talent of Taggart’s film; he makes even the most “middle of nowhere” areas look incredibly fresh and adventurous. A lens in different hands could have easily made the endless tundra and snowy peaks look repetitive after time so it definitely speaks to his talent as a filmmaker.
The film does a good job of getting the message across that the people that live off grid aren’t giant hippies or Apocalypse preparers. They come across as perfectly normal people with unique lives. One couple mentions that when they started planning on living away from society one of the things they needed to have for themselves was a house that guests would see as standard, complete with electricity and water. And so they did. The film shows amazing stories of will and perseverance. There is no message rubbed into our faces about needing to make the earth a better place. In the end, the film will either be a cool demonstration of how anything is possible of you set your mind to it or a mildly entertaining hour and a half picture that you can watch when Alaskan Bush People isn’t on Discovery Channel. But I leave that to you. RDR gives Life Off Grid a 7.3 out of 10.