In his new documentary, One day, everything will be free, first-time filmmaker and Phoenix artist Joseph Redwood-Martinez goes deep into the Sadhana Forest reforestation project in Haiti. The volunteer-run initiative gives advice and assistance to local farmers dealing with soil erosion issues from the slash-and-burn deforestation that plagues the area. Through simple techniques, such as the reintroduction of chokogu nut trees, the group hopes to restore Haiti's once plentiful forest areas. However, the inclusive group, which also has a project in India, found that the ideas that flourished from the Haitian project (like the effectiveness of international aid and the viability of a free economy) went far beyond the original purpose.
Although One day, everything will be free is Redwood-Martinez's first attempt at filmmaking, his immersion into the Sadhana Forest project gave him rare insight, which come through poignantly in the film. While in Berlin working on his next project, he discussed via e-mail the film, its intention, and its future on the festival circuit with Jackalope Ranch.
Where are you from? I was born and raised in Phoenix. After high school, I left Arizona and went to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Why did you want to make One day, everything will be free? I decided at the last minute to make the documentary on Sadhana Forest Haiti. A day before my flight, I was in New York and went to the Staples in Union Square to print out my boarding passes. While I was there, I saw the most basic Canon camera capable of video was on sale. I had been to Sadhana Forest India previously and knew it was an intensely dynamic place.
When I got to Sadhana Forest, I put the camera away for the first five weeks. My first priority was to be an engaged participant observer and to build a mutual respect with those both within and outside of the community. This is something that would be impossible to do if you introduce yourself with a camera in your hand.
I had not done any work previously with the documentary format. As such, I did not have any expectations that this material would necessarily congeal as a documentary. And if it did, I had no idea of what that could possibly look like or what it would do. But after three months of editing, the material started to take hold as a feature-length documentary.
When was this film shot? May through August of 2012.
What connection do you have to the Sadhana Forest project? I first arrived to Sadhana Forest India as a volunteer in November of 2011. I stayed there for two weeks and couldn't handle it, so I moved to a nearby organic farm to learn about food production instead of intensive community living and ecological restoration. Over the next three months, however, I would go back to Sadhana from time to time to visit with friends there or join in on the meals they shared there.
As I reflected on the community, I started to learn a lot about myself: my assumptions, values, needs, things I had never really given much consideration. At the time, living at Sadhana was just too overwhelming for me. It was too much of a departure from the life I had been previously living: with a nice job in Istanbul, living in a nice apartment, going out every night. The funny thing is that one of the reasons I originally came to Sadhana was for a change from that lifestyle.
What emotions were you trying to evoke in the film? I haven't been motivated by a desire to evoke particular emotions so much as I have by an hermeneutic impulse: a desire to provoke in people the willingness to grasp at the constitutive meanings of this community, and to allow for there to be many possibly contradictory meanings existing all at once.
One volunteer described the project as "just a group of people that want to live together and plant trees." Why do you think this project is so ambiguous, even to those involved? Sadhana derives much of its beautiful potential from the ambiguity of the project. The power of the community is in that it can be many things. It can be a volunteer reforestation project experimenting with the idea of community, it can be a means of providing a livelihood for vulnerable populations, it can be a working holiday, it can be a way of living with higher consciousness. It can be significant, but it doesn't demand this.
Sadhana Forest originally was intended to be a group of families living together and reforesting a small amount of tropical dry evergreen forest in Tamil Nadu, India. The community was initiated by a young family, and, after just a few days of living on the land, volunteers just started showing up. With each month, more and more volunteers came to the extent that today, there are over 1,000 volunteers each year who go through Sadhana Forest India.
With their simple openness to letting the project evolve not based on an inspired vision of one person but through contributions from thousands of short- and long-term volunteers, the founders of Sadhana Forest have enabled something that far exceeded their initial expectations. What was supposed to be a group of families reforesting a piece of land in India has evolved into an international community that is constituted by an ever mutable complex social expression of nonviolence, environmental stewardship and inclusiveness.
Do you think the movement will spread further than the current incarnations in India and Haiti? In the summer of 2013, a group from Sadhana Forest went to Kenya to explore the possibility of establishing another permanent community in collaboration with the Samburu tribe. In terms of the "movement," I think this is constantly spreading beyond the physical communities that Sadhana has established in Haiti and India. People from over 100 countries have been through Sadhana. More are constantly coming and going. As such, there is the possibility that they take with them -- on a personal level, an organizational level, from a theoretical or pragmatic perspective -- the spirit of Sadhana Forest, spreading it beyond the physical incarnations in India and Haiti.
Why did you focus on the Haiti project? Sadhana Forest India developed in the very specific conditions of being a community within a larger network of communities called Auroville, in Tamil Nadu, India. But my primary interest was to explore how this very specific philosophy developed in relation to Auroville translated when it was brought to the cultural, ecological, and political context of Anse-a-Pitres, Haiti. I wanted to understand what was difficult to translate, what was lost in translation, and what else emerges.
What do you think the middle ground that one volunteer mentioned is between Sadhana and typical western life? I think it is varied, perhaps inevitable. But it is also going to be relatively unremarkable. Not the kind of thing you will see documentaries about. It it those small efforts, those incremental changes, the accumulation of personal choices. The significance of Sadhana Forest is that it is a firm contrast; it is not the middle ground. Sadhana Forest is another point on the line; perhaps on another end of the line.
What was the most difficult part of making this film? I felt very well supported intellectually and personally while making the film with Sadhana Forest in Haiti. The editing process has been undertaken largely by myself, but this was a joy to work so intimately with every component of the film and see the documentary come into being. The most difficult part of making this film has arrived now, with getting the film out there.
What do you hope viewers take away from your film?
My motivation is to enable thoughtful dialogue and reflection on the implications of Sadhana Forest; especially with those audiences who would not have encountered this subject otherwise.
Soil erosion issues plague even developed countries. Do you think farmers in Haiti and India are more receptive to Sadhana's proposed solutions? I'm not sure, actually. I think I would have had to stay involved with the community for a number of years to really give an honest answer about the receptivity around the approaches advocated by Sadhana Forest.
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How do people sign up to volunteer if they're interested in the project? Sadhana abides by a commitment to inclusiveness of all: anyone is welcome at anytime to stay with the community in India or Haiti. If they don't have space, they will make space. You can either show up in person on the day of, or you can contact through email to make arrangements in advance: email@example.com
Have you submitted the film to any film festivals? Yes. I am submitting the film to a number of international film festivals. But . . . I wouldn't want to limit this to just the festival circuit. Anyone can get in touch with me at any time and I will be happy to support them in their efforts to organize a screening -- no matter what size.
What projects are you working on next? I'm working on a documentary project looking critically at the promises and implications of urban agriculture internationally. So far, I have been able to conduct case studies in Quito, New York, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tijuana, Berlin, Tel Aviv, Ramallah, and Delhi. Over the next year, I will be synthesizing this research into either another feature-length documentary or into a more distributed web-based platform.