Since I was young, I’ve envisioned living off the grid and away from civilization. The rustic sustainable lifestyle and self-sufficiency seemed like an ideal answer to many of the problems we face as a society. For a few years, I lived in the Alaskan backcountry but this was cut short by a terrible storm that knocked a tree down on top of me. I broke 40 bones, snapped my spine, tore the nerves in my left arm, and lost my spleen. I was lucky enough to survive, but it was advances in technology and well-trained doctors that saved me – not my ideals. Over years of recovery, I began to question many of the assumptions we make about what constitutes wild or wilderness and whether living off the grid turns a blind eye to the world around us. In an era where pristine over-idealized wilderness areas are more marketing tools than accurate representations of wilderness, the film is intended to create a firsthand look at what it means to shift our perspective and look at discarded or recovering wilderness areas as places of beauty, value, and necessity.
The project positions the viewer in the midst of a mundane and often-overlooked mixed environment that is experienced through the verité perspective of the film. The film then follows the journey of the expedition trying to navigate and survive in a landscape that calls into question many of the assumptions we have about the natural world, the aesthetics of what is ‘natural’, and survival in an era of ubiquitous human impact.
There is also a science-fiction quality of the post-industrial landscape and the ways in which the explorers must adapt. This landscape of juxtaposition is reflected within the food the explorers cook, the toxic waste sites they pass, the undrinkable water, in the desolate scenery, to their discoveries of dead animals and their confrontations with the police. Even under these conditions, there is a strong sense of awe and wonder, as strange as that may seem in this environment. In an era of ubiquitous human impact as well as the increase in hurricanes, fires, floods, and global pandemics, has the time come to re-define and reclassify wilderness to respond to climate change and human impact? Wetlands such as the New Jersey Meadowlands, where the film is set, have become the first line of defense against rising tides and floods. This film’s inside look at postindustrial wilderness allows viewers to see the beauty and value of such areas even with their blights, bad smells, and invasive species while also suggesting that these areas are vital components in saving our coasts, our cities, and wildlife habitat.