Midian Farm takes the rocky road to utopia
A documentary by Liz Marshall. Rating unavailable
As Buckminster Fuller stated with unsettling clarity way back in 1969, modern humanity faces a stark choice between utopia and oblivion. Consciously or not, Fuller’s challenge was picked up by the children of the ’60s, with alternative communities of greater or lesser virtue popping up all over a so-called developed world, founded generally on principles of collectivism, egalitarianism, and deep reverence for Spaceship Earth.
Midian Farm was one such experiment, arriving in Beaverton, Ontario, in 1971, thanks to Grainger Cowie and Diane Marshall, two well-travelled Christians who’d already gathered a small flock while running a drop-in centre for youths in hippie Toronto. Midian Farm the movie is an attempt by their daughter, the documentarian Liz Marshall (The Ghosts in Our Machine), to “detangle family history”. As she says: “There’s not one answer.”
Indeed, one of the remarkable things about Marshall’s film is that virtually all of Midian’s scattered and greying participants contribute to her alfresco portrait. Archival footage and evocatively washed-out ’70s photos supply the rest, which leaves you wanting more than its brisk 80 minutes.
The story is what you might expect, with a bunch of beautiful and super enthusiastic city kids grappling, often comically, with alien technologies like septic fields, organic food gardens, and the construction of leaky geodesic domes. The farm’s demise in 1977 is no less predictable, not counting a succession of weirdly biblical punishments that included flood, fire, hail, and a lightning strike that cleaved a “gathering tree” in half. By this point, Marshall and her disillusioned mom were long gone and Grainger’s oft-attested charisma had curdled, for some at least, into authoritarianism. “It started to feel culty to me,” remarks one “Family” member.
But this very Canadian tale is no Wild Wild Country or anything—not even close. You’d hardly call Grainger a bad guy, and he’s sincere about his mistakes, although his absence from an otherwise sweet reunion organized by Marshall for the film’s closing scenes leaves an ambivalent question mark. If we’re closer to oblivion than ever before, Midian Farm reminds us that the road to utopia still means grappling with the alien technology of being human.