Running Time: 86 mins
Rated: Rating M.(coarse language)
This is a feature-length documentary that was made in the UK about a radical architect, Michael Reynolds with very unusual ideas and a personality to match. The film took three years to make and Reynolds, now 60 years old, is totally committed to the production of housing that is entirely energy-independent. The movie begins by showing him and his communal co-workers constructing sustainable houses in the New Mexico desert (USA) out of garbage that people throw away; his life is dedicated to building his structures out of the waste for eco-conscious communities. However, these same structures get Reynolds into strife. There is obvious conflict with bureaucracy, industry is hostile, and society as a whole is not all that accepting. The film starts slowly, but builds up pace to become a highly effective and very moving statement about Society's need to do "something' about global warming.
This is not just a film about sustainable living. It tracks a highly individual character who dares to take on all-and-sundry to communicate his message that architecture is about people having to battle with their environment in order to survive. Government, through its stifling bureaucracy, and big business through its ignorance, don't have the sense to do something about the environment and the enormous wastage within it. This is a compelling film about a radical character, his personal struggle, and the legal obstacles that are thrown in his path. Reynolds eventually tries to introduce a bill that will allow his unusual housing techniques to flourish, but it meets resistance. Then, the 2004 tsunami hits, and Reynolds and his co-workers find themselves being asked to put their housing skills to work to help survivors in India, which they do. But the film is also about the creativity of Reynolds. Is he an odd-ball with leftist leanings that bureaucracy unreasonably hates, or is he an inspirational person with radically different ideas, who needs to be heard by a world facing growing waste and global warming?
After viewing this film, recycling takes on a whole new meaning. Reynolds uses anything he can lay his hands on (tyres, bottles, tins, and cans) to create eco-friendly structures. His buildings take on an alien-look; his structures are earth-ships (his term) that aim to help people survive in a world that is threatened massively by climate change. You know his cause is right and his personal struggle shows enormous courage, persistence and resilience. Deep down, though, one suspects that people like Reynolds will continue to face almost insurmountable difficulties in pushing the environmental cause significantly further.
Shown at this year's Brisbane International Film Festival, this film was nominated for the Douglas Hickox director's Award at last year's British Independent Film Awards, and the movie was the People's Choice Award at the Vancouver Festival in 2007. In very many ways it is a quality film that requires attention. No strangers to special-effect projects themselves, one senses a natural affinity between Oliver Hodge as Director, and Michael Reynolds, as Architect. Reynolds' structures "are' special effects, and Hodge has a lot of experience in using them to make his films.
It is to Hodge's great credit that he exposes us to Reynolds' idiosyncratic vision, and he has made a fascinating and very different documentary. Watch for the rolling titles at the end of the film - they maintain total integrity.
Mongrel Media Out August 21
Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.