Jonathan Taggart’s bare-bones documentary about people disconnected from electric or natural gas infrastructure has a loose, unpolished feel. It’s a fitting accompaniment to an exploration of people who live in a way that many of us would find bafflingly inconvenient.
In 2011-2013, Taggart and Dr. Phillip Vaninni – a professor at Royal Roads University and current Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Public Ethnography – spent two years travelling across the country to every province and territory, visiting the homes of more than 200 Canadians who were living off the grid. From Lasqueti Island in British Columbia to far northern towns in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories to the East coast, the cinematography showcases the natural beauty that can be found in some of Canada’s most remote places.
Combining interviews with off-griders themselves with footage of Vaninni explaining the off-grid way of life on CBC radio, Life Off Grid is at its most effective when it showcases the amazingly diverse array of individuals who live – either by choice or by necessity – completely removed from many of the luxuries that the majority of Canadians take for granted such as mobile phones, natural gas, and municipal sewage disposal. Taggart and Vaninni’s subjects are artists, parents, retired school teachers, electricians, farmers, and people who are living traditional lifestyles passed down to them from previous generations. While some live off of the grid according to a personal desire to move toward a more sustainable way of life or out of concern for the environment, there are also those who simply live in locations where connecting to the infrastructure is an impossibility due to cost and availability. The individuals at the center of Taggart’s Life Off Grid are thorough in their explanation of their self-sufficient paradises, and clearly take a great deal of pride in showing off their solar panels, windmills, gardens, woodstoves, and compositing toilets.
For audiences that are unfamiliar with off-grid living or alternative energy, the doc has the potential to be an important and eye-opening look at the ways that some Canadians are experimenting with a way of life that proves to be both self-sufficient and sustainable. While there is certainly a strong message of awareness and conservation buried not far below the surface of Life Off Grid, it is by no means the sole purpose Taggart’s documentary. If nothing else, the film will make viewers question the comforts and conveniences that they so often take for granted.
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