Independent film festivals are vital for the future of cinema. They allow blossoming filmmakers – people who may not have the backing of a distribution company to get their movies seen – the opportunity to showcase their work to an audience. For people behind the camera, they are a means of raising one’s profile, a way to generate buzz, a chance to perhaps receive constructive feedback from fans and critics alike. Meanwhile, for cinefiles, there is a joy in venturing outside the comfort zone of mainstream cinema. With indie festivals, one never really knows exactly what to expect. An attendee could potentially see either an example of truly inept filmmaking or the debut of a future brilliant director.

Thus, I was delighted when I was chosen to be an official critic at Vancouver’s Lift-Off Festival, an event part of the Lift-Off network – a global movement designed to “celebrate Indie filmmaking”. Taking place in the lovely Vancity Theatre, I was ready for three evenings filled with the best features and shorts the seaport city had to offer.

The festival began promisingly with some solid shorts (the best of which I’ll dedicate an entire article to) and the documentary The End of the Road. The film tells the fascinating true story – of which I knew nothing about – of a group of Americans in the 60s who refused to serve in the Vietnam war and were forced to flee the country. Somehow, they wound up in Lund, a small craft harbour and village in British Columbia. There, they formed a hippie community in the wilderness – growing their own food, building their own houses. Through photographs and interviews with the members of this atypical society, the film details these people’s lives living off the grid, the sociological impacts of the lifestyle and the tentative bond the “bush bunnies” formed with the locals.

The End of the Road is a warm and lively documentary comprising almost solely of interesting, witty people delivering funny anecdote after funny anecdote. Perhaps, its due to their experience living openly in the wildnerness, but the subjects – now very elderly – are wonderfully frank discussing that period of their lives. They get down to the nitty gritty of what anybody curious about the counter-culture lifestyle wants to know. With genuine grins on their faces, the draft-dodgers talk candidly about the immense difficulties of living straight off the land, the struggles of keeping this forest “city of misfits” harmonious and even their constant drug-taking, the concept of free love and open marriages and the difficulties of building and sustaining a homemade outhouse.

The End of the Road’s Official Site (View trailer here).

There is also interviews with the children born and bred in this unusual community that are, too, engaging, particularly one conducted with Willow Yamauchi, someone who published a well-received book about her life entitled Adult Child of Hippies. Through these talking heads, the viewer gets a glimpse into what it must have been like to spend one’s formative years with parents often stoned on “peyote, Quaaludes and acid”, performing transcendentalism with pillows, both attempts to be – as one parent states – “wide open to the cosmos”.

Personally, I wish the film delved a little more into the negatives of the lifestyle. There are glimpses of darkness as characters describe the love-triangles that would often occur in the community due to open marriage. Meanwhile, one adult child of hippies recounts a tale of inviting a friend from school to her house only to find her father naked and getting a massage from a woman who was not her mother (also naked) in the garden. Yet, these are only minor moments and one leaves with the sense that the lifestyle may have been less idyllic than displayed.

However, even with this nagging issue, the documentary still entertains – highlighting a part of the counter-culture movement I was not previously aware of and managing to be one of the films I laughed the most at this year. It was a strong opening for the festival and is something I hope reaches a wide audience.

Stephen Porzio (twitter@porzfolio) is writing a series of articles reporting on Vancouver Lift-Off, the film festival, which he’s attending as an official critic. Check back for more on this series. 

Stephen, an Irish writer, also contributes to the sites Headstuff and Film Ireland and is an editor for Cold Coffee Press