DJ Turner and The Spark Documentary: Open Source Empowerment

On May 11th, 2013, in the middle of rural Missouri, The Spark documentary team will build a tractor from start to finish to donate to Our School at Blair Grocery in the lower 9th ward of New Orleans. Right now they are raising money toward the goal of 13,500.00, which covers the construction and transportation of one LifeTrac, an easy to repair multi-use tractor.

Dr. Marcin Jakubowski lives in rural Missouri with his Open Source Ecology colleagues. Off the power and water grid they live in earth brick huts. Everyday they work on building the Global Village Construction set: the fifty machines needed to build small sustainable communities with modern comforts. Day and night the team designs and tests, developing plans that when finished will be released for free on the Internet.

The Spark shows us the team preparing for their first release, “Christmas Gift to the World” the unveiling of their first four machines. Fighting weather, deadlines and the inevitable interpersonal conflicts the team discovers that solving the world’s problems isn’t as simple as implementing good ideas.

Nat Turner was a teacher in New York when the plight of the lower 9th ward in hurricane ravaged New Orleans moved him to drive a blue school bus there. Nat turned the ruin of a grocery store into an alternative school for at-risk youth. While teaching his students he pays them to grow food, which he sells to local restaurants to support the school.

Local restaurant owners fight over prices, students and staff must navigate disagreements and aggression, physical and emotional damage caused by the hurricane influences every interaction. But Nat’s biggest problem may be success. Can he grow his community without destroying it?

So many documentaries look at problems without doing much to suggest solutions. The Spark looks at two brilliant solutions to major problems in our world. Ideas so wonderful most of us finding out about them wonder why they haven’t already been implemented. Why aren’t there already clusters of rentable sets of fifty machines underwritten by a small fraction of all that money wasted on the consequences of not having them? Why isn’t every school growing its own fruit and vegetables for local restaurants and their own cafeterias?

The Spark exposes the challenges that adversity and success can put in the path of the most dedicated and intelligent among us. The 21st century’s answers to 20th century problems lack support because these are not for profit ventures that could attract interest from Wall Street and high profile politicians. These solutions aren’t about making some suit rich. They’re about really changing how society works, about the potential to lift millions out of poverty. This truly inspiring film is full of hope but never neglects harsh reality.

DJ Turner is a post-production supervisor and associate producer of The Spark and I spoke with him recently about the project and his efforts. Disclosure: DJ is my friend; we’re producers on a documentary now in post-production.

Where can people go to donate to the LifeTrac for Our School at Blair Grocery? What do we get besides a legit tax deduction?

Our website. Click the donate button. People can also donate by check through the International Documentary Association.

Or by check: All check donations must be made out to the International Documentary Association (or IDA) with THE SPARK written somewhere on each check, preferably on the memo line.

Checks should be mailed to:

1632 McCollum Pl
Los Angeles, CA 90026

People will receive their name in the credits and receive updates on the film and its affiliate projects.

How did you begin working with The Spark director Ian Midgely?

A mutual filmmaker friend connected us. I had already heard about Open Source Ecology, and had recently returned from my first trip to New Orleans. Both story lines resonated with me deeply. I had also wanted to get involved in documentaries so it seemed like a perfect fit. I offered to cut a new trailer on deferment, and Ian of course accepted.

Sustainability would seem to be such a universally beneficent goal, what has this film taught you about the challenges and politics of sustainability?

Well it seems that many organizations are at a chicken-&-the-egg predicament. The catch 22 is that we are trying to create ways of living off the grid, yet in order to do so, these organizations require significant start-up funds and are often very dependent on grants and private equity. You need money to make money, so without initial funding infrastructure becomes an issue. There is no instruction manual for this stuff yet, so most are experimenting by trial and error. And because of that, many programs don’t become self-sustaining for years down the line. Both of the organizations in the film are just now getting to the point where they can even consider trying to sustain without grants or investments.

Another major challenge is people management. When you can’t pay people or fully provide for them (which usually tends to be the case in the initial phases of these projects) accountability becomes a very tricky thing to uphold. Productivity will quickly dwindle if there aren’t proper incentives and/or accommodations. It’s another catch-22; without the right team and proper management it’s difficult to build a functioning infrastructure but without the proper infrastructure it’s really hard to get dedicated and talented people to commit.

Open Source Ecology exists at the crossroads between intentional communities and open source tech. Are there any plans down the road for the creation of an OSE built model intentional community?

Absolutely. OSE headquarters, Factor-e-Farm is a 30+ acre farm. After the Global Village Construction Set is complete, Marcin hopes to create a small community that will be almost completely reliant on their own inventions.

James Slate, an affiliate of OSE is also planning an eco-village in Tennessee that will focus on development of sustainable technologies. Technologies for instance that can aid people in more urban settings where complete sustainability may be unrealistic.

What’s the latest news from Our School?

Our school is currently going through a restructuring phase. They have minimized staff in order to structure the program that will be self-sufficient and rely very little on outside grants. The hope is that they will be growing and selling enough food to employ kids without receiving aid from the state and city government.

The Sparks focuses on Open Source and Our School, what other projects have you seen in relation to this film that you think we should know about?

Occupy Love is about post-occupy movement and asks the question, are we evolving as a global consciousness? It shows our potential to move beyond the current paradigm and seek out solutions to living harmoniously, sustainably, etc. Like The Spark, Occupy Love is about what happens after the occupy movement- how do we stop discussing the problems and start taking action.

A Place at the Table is about hunger in America and where our food comes from. Agriculture is one of our biggest industries, and yet one in two children will at some point in their life be on food assistance, which is not nearly enough to eat healthy, nourishing foods. Like The Spark, A Place at the Table looks at ways of providing nutritional and affordable food to even the most impoverished areas of the country.

You directed a short called Grave Dawn, the true story of a young German soldier at the end of WWII whose opposition to the war results in an act of kindness that ends up saving his own life. Are you directing anything now or planning to?

I seem to be directing more and more music videos these days. I enjoy the creative freedom that music videos allow, but feature films are my true passion. I am currently writing a film that is a soul-searching tale set against the backdrop of Thailand. This will most likely be my debut into feature-film directing. It’s a film I’ve been developing for many years and am finally ready to move forward with it. I also plan on turning Grave Dawn into a feature someday. Erwin’s life story (of whom the film is based on) is pretty remarkable.

You were a founding member of Youth Empowering Youth, a non-profit giving high school students the opportunity to make and showcase documentaries on local and global issues. Any news to share about that?

Unfortunately, the program dissolved once the founders passed the torch. It was a really special program; I still remember some of the docu shorts these kids did. One was about a Jewish woman who was assigned at Auschwitz to be Dr. Mingela’s personal illustrator. It was intense. Another one I remember followed a man who was homeless by choice. Really powerful stuff for 16–18 year olds.

You’re also working on the documentary Exile Nation: The Plastic People, a film Zona Norte and the photographer activist Chris Bava directed by Charles Shaw, with myself among others. What inspired you to work on that film?

The content and the subject matter. Deportation is a very sensitive subject to me. I grew up in the vineyards of Northern California, surrounded by migrant workers and their families. People don’t realize how vital of a role they play in our economy. There is too much ignorance, misinformation, and hypocrisy surrounding the subject, and this is way for me to help bring attention to a critical subject. And man, the first time Charles showed me footage, I was floored. The first thought that ran through my find was, “Holy Fuck”, the second thought was, “sign me up”.

After the tractor build, what’s next for The Spark?

After we film the tractor being built and delivered, we will return to our cave to finish editing the third act. We hope to have screenings in June and a completed film ready for submission by August.

Tamra Lucid is the author of Making the Ordinary Extraordinary.



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Interviews with Extraordinary People

Author of Making the Ordinary Extraordinary, Lucid Nation singer, documentary film producer.