Q&A: Director Joan Grossman talks about Drop City, her latest Colorado-connected film
In 1965, a southern Colorado community known as Drop City was born when a collective of artists from Boulder and Lawrence, Kansas, settled on a seven-acre plot just outside of Trinidad. With a desire to establish a non-ideological creative community whose physical structures -- modeled on Buckminster Fuller's geodesic-dome style -- were made of scrap metal and other junkyard finds, Gene and Joann Bernofsky, Richard Kallweit and Clark Richert took on the material-less life. But the commune wasn't idyllic forever.
Artist Clark Richert inside one of Drop City's geodesic domes.
In Drop City, the Thursday DocNight feature screening February 28 at the Sie FilmCenter, co-directors Joan Grossman and Tom McCourt weave the tale of the art-focused commune through interviews with the people who lived there. In advance of the showing -- which will also feature a Q&A with Grossman -- the director spoke with Westword about the counterculture stereotyping of the '60s, and why Drop City's story is important to a sustainable future.
Westword: What brought you to telling the story of Drop City?
Joan Grossman: It started because my co-producer on the project, Tom McCourt, had met the Bernofskys -- Gene and JoAnn -- who were key in the founding of Drop City. He became very interested in the story and started working on a book about it. But at the time, there was still a lot of animosity because of the way Drop City ended, which wasn't so great. People weren't that keen on talking; they just didn't want to deal with it.
One of the issues with Drop City, which we brought up in the movie, was that a lot of people involved thought that the media was a factor in destroying Drop City. So [they] were skeptical of any kind of project about Drop City -- if there was going to be any sort of exploitation of it.
Tom ended up putting that project down. But several years ago, Gene Bernofsky started sending him photographs he had found. Tom, who's not a filmmaker, thought it could be a really interesting film -- and he approached me. I was really blown away by the way these domes looked; I was interested immediately. But what I said to him was, "It looks great, but I'd really like to meet some of the people. You know, I'm a little concerned -- what if they're a bunch of burnt-out hippies?"
So I did. I met a bunch of the people involved, and I thought they were wonderful. I was hooked. That's really how it started.
It's a story that really resonated with me on a lot of levels. I've always been fascinated with the 1960s. I always felt that the counterculture was misrepresented in a reductive way, as being just "sex and drugs and rock and roll." I love the way the story points to some of the really deep thinking and innovation that I think was also a key piece of what the counterculture of the era was.
I was fascinated by the fact that I had never heard of Drop City -- not just because it happened in Colorado, but especially now that the "sustainable community" idea is on the forefront today.
Absolutely. I think the relevance is really surging again. There's just a new interest in asking, how are we living? How are we consuming? How can we do things in a meaningful way and in a way that's ecological and serving our need to be creative people?
I think because the '60s kind of crashed and burned and became so enmeshed in this idea of free love and drugs -- I mean, that was all a part of it; I'm not negating that -- but some of the roots of the counterculture have just been overlooked. One of the legacies that certainly survives from the '60s is the music being so important and having a wider cultural relevance.
But I think this whole notion of the commune really got somewhat subsumed by the fact that a lot of the communes that came about after Drop City were based around charismatic leaders. They had a little bit of a culty [feeling]. That wasn't the case for all of them, but it became a certain narrative for what communes were. If fact, they were strictly non-ideological -- they really didn't want to have any kind of leader or ideological premise for what they were doing. They were very much against that.