“Forty Years on The Farm,” a look at the longest-running commune turned cooperative community in America, makes its broadcast premiere on Nashville Public Television this Thursday at 8 p.m.
The 60-minute documentary features an interview with Stephen Gaskin, founder of The Farm, who died in July. Gaskin, while working as a English teacher at San Francisco State University, organized a Monday night philosophy club – where discussions focused on how psychedelic experiences relate to religions – that turned into The Farm movement. As more hippies congregated on the West Coast, Gaskin and his new “followers” found their California home too decadent, so they formed a caravan and left for Tennessee with 300 or so of them arriving in 1971.
They purchased 1,000 acres at $70 each from a moonshiner near Summertown, Tenn., according to an article in The Tennessean. The population of The Farm swelled to more than 1,200 in early 1980s, and in turn medical bills led to a breakdown of their true communal lifestyle. Since then The Farm has operated as a mix of a collective and private economy developing a number of nonprofit business such as: a midwifery center, a book publishing house, a radiation detector and environmental consultant business, and the hunger relief organization Plenty International.
Randy Rudder, a producer of the “40 Years on The Farm” and an adjunct English teacher at Aquinas College and segment producer for the Christian Broadcasting Network, first heard about The Farm at a birthing class with his wife. He wrote a nonfiction essay about the community for a writing class and then decided to expand it into a documentary. “What I’m most proud of I guess … I think we were maybe some of the last people to do some fairly extensive interviews with Stephen Gaskin before he passed,” Rudder said. “It’s also my biggest regret … I wanted to get it out before he died. And we waited a little bit too long.”
Rudder, along with his production partner Ed Lambert, hope the Thursday night broadcast of their documentary is the first of many to come, possibly on other PBS affiliates or from places like Netflix. There is a crowd-funding campaign open now on hatchfund.org to help cover the finishing costs for the film. It aims to raise $2,500. Thus far they’ve received $1,150. (Story continues below)
A Trailer for the Film
“Forty Years on The Farm” made its debut at the Nashville Film Festival in 2012. Licensing rights expenses for songs by The Who, Crosby Stills & Nash and others have held up its release since then. Nashville Public Television will cover those expenses for its broadcast this week. Money raised through hatchfund.org, if the filmmakers reach their goal, would cover the cost of music licensing rights to allow the sale of the film on DVDs or via download.
The documentary is Rudder’s first full-length film, and he says he’d like to make more. Some of the subjects he wants to pursue related to Nashville include: Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney’s days working in the city, the literary history the historic black college Fisk University, the life of author and Vanderbilt professor Robert Penn Warren.
If you’d like to learn more about The Farm right now, it has an interesting website. There is also another documentary that’s been made about The Farm called “American Commune.” It was produced by two sisters who grew up as part of the community but left in 1985. The film is available for sale on DVD here.