Off-grid : A day in the life follows two friends, Phil and Billy, as they go about their day to day activities in their off-grid home. The land they are living on belongs to Phil's parents, and this is the first time that anyone from the family has wanted to move there full time. While they do not live there permanently yet, they periodically stay over for a few weeks or months at a time and work on building the facilities they will need to make this a functional off-grid home. Currently they are working on the build for the composting toilet. They plan to later rebuild the main house and install some solar panels on the roof. Phil's definition of off-grid living is living in a self-sufficient space where you generate your own power, food and water, and deal with your own waste.
This film is not a representation of what life off grid is like, since it can vary hugely between people and places. It is not a representation of a typical day for Phil and Billy either, since I filmed them during an unusually snowy period. Instead, I hope that this film will immerse the viewer into their world for a day and get a full experience through, not only images and words spoken, but also atmospheric sound. Furthermore, I hope that my obvious presence behind the camera as I follow them around and observe, will enable the viewer to see through my eyes. The sensory experience created by the clear sounds throughout the film will hopefully help the audience engage with the footage more. This links to sensory ethnography, a concept defined by Sarah Pink in her lecture at the ESRC Research Methods festival, as a "rethinking of ethnographic methods with attention to sensory perception, experience and categories". She describes how important all of the sense are to understanding and learning about other people's lives in her book Doing Sensory Ethnography.
Living off-grid means being responsible for all of your needs. This includes basic survival needs that a lot of people take for granted such as heat, water and light. Calling the utilities company when the heating cuts off is not an option, going outside and gathering more fire wood or climbing onto the roof to clear a solar panel becomes a necessity. (Outram, 2011). I have always liked the idea of being able to fix everything myself, whether that is a car engine, a light switch or a table. Living off-grid definitely teaches you a lot about how the objects around you work, and to be more careful with your possessions. In a world plagued by consumerism, capitalism and waste, these are useful values to have. Living off-grid is also a cheaper way of life than most, where you are taken away from money-obsessed society and have time to fill your life with what matters to you.
However, in my opinion, the most valuable aspect of off-grid living is the idea that you can live in a comfortable space while having a minimal impact on the environment. There is a field called environmental or ecological anthropology, which focuses on the relationship people have with their environment (Orlove, 1980). This topic is more important now than ever before. Our planet's climate is drastically changing, the environment is being polluted and plants & animals are being exploited. These are issues that I have grown up knowing about. Both my parents have always been very environmentally conscious, and my marine biologist father mostly works on contracts which help habitats and wildlife. Habits such as repairing things when they break, not buying anything unnecessary, switching lights off when you leave the room, using excess water from cooking or washing vegetables to water the plants, closing the tap while brushing teeth, never throwing anything on the floor, bringing a basket to do your shopping etc. have always seemed natural to me. Unfortunately, there are still so many people who do not realise what an impact their every day actions can have on the environment and the people around them.
Making a film about people who have taken the next step, who are not only environmentally conscious but who are actively changing their lifestyle to have the most minimal impact possible on the natural world, is something that I hope will get people thinking about their own day to day actions. Even though the film itself is more observational and sensory than political, activist or even informational, I hope that the ensuing discussions will lead people into that direction and inform people about alternate ways of life.
I believe that visual methods of conveying ideas or describing research are the best way to reach people. Visual anthropology is a way of engaging with the people you are studying. It is an opportunity to get them involved in how they will be represented and what they want to teach the world. (Shaw & Robertson, 1997). Though Phil and Billy did not do any of the filming or editing of this film, they chose what they wanted to show me and I showed them my film before submitting it to get their feedback and make sure I was representing them in a way they agreed with. It turns out they loved it, and some parts made them laugh. Films such as Vannini's Life off grid and various youtube channels such as Living big in a tiny house and Exploring alternatives have inspired me to look into off-grid living and made me realise that this is something that I could build for myself one day.
S. Pink (2009) Doing sensory ethnography.
E. Outram (2011) Living off the grid.
B. Orlove (1980) Ecological anthropology.
P. Vannini & J. Taggart (2015) Life off grid.
J. Shaw & C. Robertson (1997) Participatory video: a practical approach to using video creatively in group development work.