What happens when people stop being polite and start getting real?
According to the last few seasons of MTV's "The Real World," they get drunk, hook up and make innumerable questionable decisions.
What happens when strangers come to live on a family farm in rural Arkansas, grow their own food, give up modern-day conveniences and attempt zero waste?
While it may not sound like a compelling reality show by MTV's standards, that's exactly the premise of the independent film, "The Garden Summer," which debuted to a sold-out crowd in Charleston, South Carolina, on April 16. It also premiered in Conway, Arkansas, on May 18.
Inspired by the idea of social capital, then-Georgetown graduate student Hailey Wist came up with an idea for a social experiment that would challenge people like her to live off the land. The ultimate goal was "to inspire, not preach."
Wist already had a location in mind for the experiment - a farm in the Ozarks that had been in her family for generations. Despite not knowing much about gardening, she had the assistance of her mother and aunt, both avid gardeners.
All that was left to do was find people willing to give up modern conveniences to spend the summer living a bit more simply.
"Will I get warm bodies? I don't know. Probably not," she mused in the film’s trailer.
Four willing "suburbanites" - Seth Amos, Marie Barker, Ben Williams and Emilee Cleary - eventually signed on without much persuasion. Wist said she sought out people who were strangers to each other, but who she also wanted to get to know better.
In preparation of their summer, the group had to decide what produce they would grow and what they could sell at the local farmers market. They also decided that coffee, cooking oil and booze would be the only three things they would source outside of the 100-mile radius of their garden.
When the group met at the farm in May to plant their garden, friendships took root immediately; everyone was getting along and having fun.
However, the summer was not without challenges. When the group returned weeks later to live within Wist's parameters, it took only a week and a half before they started "airing grievances" by candlelight on the front porch of the farmhouse.
Everyone obviously had a stake in the garden; their ability to eat and make money depended upon its success. As the creator of the concept, Wist became the leader by default, but being everyone's boss was not a role that came easy to her.
Maintaining a garden makes for long days of hard labor. Along with the close quarters of communal living, “there was a lot to be cranky about," Wist said.
Unlike some of the other reality-based programs that portray alcohol-induced arguments over hook-ups and break-ups, the rifts featured in "The Garden Summer" were rooted in the division of labor in the garden and expectations over what "local consumption" really meant.
In fact, a budding romance between Wist and Williams wasn't really featured in the film at all.
Over the course of the summer, the group made friends with locals who taught them, among other things, how to make soap and butter. They also welcomed a steady stream of visitors from the "outside," and found that showing off all they'd accomplished always gave them new energy.
It certainly didn't hurt that one of those friends was James Beard award-winning chef Mike Lata, who helped them prepare a field feast with the food they'd grown.
"The Garden Summer" turned five typical consumers of modern conveniences into producers and contributors to their community. While Wist remains very much a part of the Charleston food community, she admits her farm experience has been difficult to completely replicate in her real life.
But if farming isn't in her future, filmmaking might be, at least according to part-time Charleston resident and actor Bill Murray.
"To make a movie that is lousy is difficult," he said after attending Wist's first screening. "So to make one that is good, it's quite an accomplishment."
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