Q&A: Director Joan Grossman talks about Drop City, her latest Colorado-connected film
The feminism of our era really started in the 1970s. So as Carol DeJulio explains [in the film], they were all born in the 1940s; they were really coming from a more conventional sense of gender roles. But at the same time, what's interesting -- you know, you can't put everything into a movie unless we were going to make a six-hour epic -- is that one of the people we did have in the film, Linda Fleming, was one of the founders of Libre. She said one of the things she loved about Drop City was that because it was about art, it wasn't about this Mother Nature, back to the land.
She said that with some of the communes she visited, it was really oppressive because women were only in this role of "earth mother" and growing food. Not that there's anything wrong with growing food, but Drop City had this intellectual culture to it. She felt, as a female artist, that it was extremely exciting and that it did break roles.
The "earth mother" idea was another assumption I made about commune living -- that it's about farming. But Drop City really wasn't at all.
I don't think they would have minded growing food. But they were also very naive and very young -- the land was cheap and they liked the way it looked. They liked being in southern Colorado, and I don't think it ever occurred to them until later that, oh, it's shale. You can't grow anything here.
But it wasn't the drive; they had other ambitions with it, which was much more around having a place where they could just enjoy life. They were all artists -- though some of them don't even like the term "artist" because it's too highfalutin' and suggests the art market.
But as Gene Bernofsky says, they like to make things. Just being in an environment where they could just be creative was really the goal -- to be outside of the materialistic culture and outside of all of this war mentality that was brewing around the Vietnam War.
One of the things about Drop City that is also interesting is their exploration of geometric form, and the geodesic dome was really embracing technology. They weren't rejecting technology; they weren't going back to the land in that off-the-grid way. They were looking at how technology could make life more interesting. One of the ideas of the counterculture was developing alternative modes of networking and using technology and resources efficiently.
Do you keep in touch with any of the people involved with Drop City?
That's another thing that was so great about the project: I really became friends with a number of the people who were in the movie. They are such wonderful, interesting people who have stayed interesting. It wasn't like Drop City was something and they became investment bankers. [Laughs.] I mean, virtually all of them have maintained the values that they were exploring in Drop City, and they're doing so many interesting things. They are really inspiring and wonderful people to know. That's been a real gift of doing the project.
What I also appreciate is, they didn't take a nostalgic view; I mean, in some ways, yes. But there's a sense of really learning and growing from it -- moving on and gleaning from that experience and going on with life. There wasn't this sentimentality, and I appreciated that, because I think a lot of the stories about the 1960s have that nostalgic quality that makes it a generalized thing.
In a way, Drop City was a specific place and a specific set of circumstances. There's an originality you can see.