“Free Spirits” Film Wins Awards, Available on DVD
Bruce Geisler in a recent Halloween costume.
"It fits well with the subject matter," he says,
"since that's what I looked like back in the
commune's day—less about 30 pounds and
a ton of wrinkles."
Are you ready for a trip back in time? Lecturer Bruce Geisler (communication) has written, directed, and coproduced a feature-length documentary “Free Spirits: The Birth, Life and Loss of a New-Age Dream” that is meeting rave reviews. Even better, the film won an award for Best Original Score at the Oxford International Film Festival and screened to a packed house at the Mendocino Film Festival in mid-May.
“Free Spirits” tells the incredible story of the Brotherhood of the Spirit (renamed Renaissance Community in 1974), one of the largest and most enduring, as well as controversial, communes in the Northeast. In May 2006 the film broke the house record at the 800-seat Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton, Massachusetts, with 2,100 people attending during its two-day special preview run and got great reviews. At its most recent area screening at Pothole Pictures in Shelburne Falls last month, 160 people attended.
A DVD has been released, available from www.acornproductions.net, where short video clips, a history and pictures of the commune, pictures, and more information also is available. Of the film, David Lenson, editor of The Massachusetts Review, stated, “I was totally unprepared for the amazing emotional impact ‘Free Spirits’ had on me. It makes history come alive in a very immediate, very emotional way. It’s brilliantly edited, without a dull nanosecond. You have to see this film.” Read another review in Many Hands magazine.
“The genesis of ‘Free Spirits’ came from my own youth,” says Geisler, who in the early 1970s at age 21 dropped out of Pomona College one semester shy of graduation. “I drove across the U.S. to join 200 new-agers who had come together to form a new communal model for society and to explore their own spiritual depths. I stayed with Brotherhood of the Spirit/Renaissance Community for four years.”
Twenty years later, as a college professor and screenwriter, Geisler attended a reunion of former commune members and was amazed at the diversity of careers and paths they had followed since the 1960s and 1970s. Receiving a small grant to produce a film about this Aquarius generation, he set off with a tape recorder to do pre-interviews with ex-communards about their post-communal lives.
“The more I spoke with them,” Geisler recalls, “the more I realized that the story that most needed to be told was the amazing 20-year history of the commune itself and its flamboyant, ill-fated founder and leader, Michael Metelica Rapunzel.” Geisler was hesitant to take on a project of that scope, but a phone call from a former commune friend changed his mind. “He told me that he had the opportunity to purchase several hours’ worth of outtakes from pieces PBS and CBS’ ‘60 Minutes’ had done on the commune during its heyday. That cinched it for me. Little did I know it would take me 15 years to complete the project!”
The Brotherhood of the Spirit/Renaissance Community existed from 1968 through 1988. It was unique in that it underwent several distinct identity changes. By examining its history, Geisler shows a distinct link between the commune movement of the 1960s and the New Age consciousness happening today.
At the commune’s peak in the 1970s, it boasted 400 full-time residents, its own airplane, national rock band, recording studio, and film and video facilities plus a million-dollar-a-year income. The commune’s story, both humorous and tragic, and that of the rise and fall of the charismatic and mercurial Metelica, reflects a generation. Having survived the intense hostility of the world around it, including governmental attempts to throw them off their land, the burning of communal buildings, and the brutal murder of a commune member, the commune ended up failing because of internal forces, not least of which sprung from negative changes in Metelica himself.
Geisler is a versatile award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker. His credits include Grand Prize for Best Screenplay from Worldfest Houston, the Dominique Dunne Memorial Prize for Filmmaking, and many others. As a full-time lecturer at UMass Amherst since 2001, Geisler teaches narrative and documentary filmmaking/digital video production and screenwriting, and was responsible for moving the curriculum into digital video. “Free Spirits” is his first feature-length film as a director.
Geisler learned filmmaking while living at the commune and later at USC’s film school where he earned an MFA. His first short documentary “Magazine,” made while in the commune, was shot with a camcorder borrowed in exchange for installing plumbing in the owner’s tree-house residence, and was shown on Massachusetts Public Television. Geisler has sold screenplays to or written commissioned scripts for Orion, Metromedia, New World Pictures, New Star Entertainment, Romance Classics, and others. His short films, “Choppers” and “Groves,” have also won awards and appeared on PBS and cable channels.
July 12, 2007