A new Guardian documentary, Eve, follows a nine-year-old girl on her journey back to mainstream schooling after moving to Tinkers Bubble, the oldest off-grid community in the UK. As she grapples with the fear of what her peers might think of her passion for the environment and her determination to have her voice heard, we gain an intimate and intergenerational perspective of what it really means to move a family off grid.
The film was made with the support of the BFI Doc Society Fund and the Climate Story Labs. The filmmakers, Joya Berrow and Lucy Jane, set out with the clear objective of making the entire production carbon conscious. The Tinkers Bubble community is committed to living fossil-fuel free and has been beyond carbon neutral for 25 years. We find out more about its approach to sustainable filmmaking and the lessons learned along the way.
How did you first meet Eve and her family?
A wonderful series of events led us to Tinkers Bubble and meeting the Tizard family. Joya grew up in Dorset around the small-scale farmers and campaigners Mary & Jyoti Fernandes, who had lived and brought their families up in Tinkers Bubble before moving to Dorset. It has always been a place on Joya’s radar growing up.
One spring day when we went to visit with Mary, the community members were busy with their daily lives and working the land. We instantly gelled with Eve, who took us under her wing and showed us around. She was particularly excited about her favourite parts of the forest – the curly tree which she climbed, the death swing and the inner forest trampoline.
It was inspiring to see her positive interactions with nature and the intergenerational community around her. Living in the forest had helped bring out a deep appreciation of the environment in Eve, and we instantly recognised how special that was. After that day, we knew that we wanted to collaborate with her to tell her story, so we set about organising further visits. On those subsequent trips we really got to know her family though helping with daily activities such as planting and harvesting vegetables.
We have always felt passionately about shining a light on alternative living and really admired the commitment of the community at Tinkers Bubble to sustainable living, activism and dedication to the climate movement.
What compelled you to tell their story?
We met Eve and her family at such a pivotal point in their lives, having only moved to the community a few months prior. They were still adjusting to their new, more slowly paced way of living and were ironing out challenges of living in a community. It seemed like a strong time of reflection for them, particularly for Eve’s parents, Kirsty and Nick, so it felt like a valuable time to capture and share.
We realised that the family’s story was relatable on many levels, and for many types of viewer, young or old. We were inspired by their commitment to the climate movement but the emotional and practical trials and tribulations of actually moving off grid provided an honest and human narrative to the story. We knew the film would challenge an often stereotypical or misunderstood representation of alternative living, and saw how Eve and her family had the power to encourage viewers to connect with nature and consider more sustainable daily choices. As Kirsty says in the film: “Obviously this is the most extreme way of self-sustainability that isn’t going to suit everybody, but every little change we make can help the world, and we can only start with small steps.”
We saw the wider context of the film as a powerful tool for an impact campaign with integrity too. The Youth Climate movement has become an increasingly loud voice in activism and we saw how Eve could play an important role as a powerful British role model for young people. In forming a strong bond with her and her 11-year-old sister Verity, we saw how vital it is to make the voices of young people heard. They are the future stewards of this planet and their opinions are so important. We can learn a lot from the way that young people think and feel about this world.
Is this the first carbon-neutral short documentary?
Well, it’s hard to say that Eve was definitely the first, but it is probable and we were certainly the first to record our process of making it carbon neutral. We are using the project as a case study for other filmmakers who want to work in a greener way, providing information and tips.
We enjoyed collaborating with Doc Society in the process, calculating our carbon footprint in a log that covered every element of production. We also put budget aside to offset the final impact of the film. We continued to work with Doc Society to help put together a sustainable production checklist, which is available online. Our sustainable approach was spearheaded by Theo Gainzvelles.
The music in the film is by Cosmo Sheldrake. Tell us about his approach
Cosmo’s music brings the film alive. We knew we wanted to use his music before we had even shot the film, and it became a guiding energy throughout the filming process. He had made an incredible album called Wake Up Calls, using the calls of endangered British birds, and the rich texture of the songs really reflects the array of sounds that exist at Tinkers Bubble. He uses lots of recordings of natural sounds, animals and environments in his tracks.
The playful energy of his music mixed with the emotional narrative that runs through each song embodies Eve’s character and the emotional journey that we go on with her throughout the film. Cosmo is a brilliant artist. His authenticity and interest in the natural world is completely magnetic.
What were your most memorable shoot days?
We made visits to the community over the course of about eight months, between July and February. We usually visited Eve and her family for a few days at a time so the whole filming process has become this amazing blur, watching Eve grow and develop as a person and seeing how her family continued to settle in at the Bubble. Being there for Eve’s first day back at school was very emotional for us all. We stood waving goodbye to a little anxious butterfly at the school gates, then witnessed this confident young human arrive back from school later with a massive smile on her face. It was so heartwarming.
It was also incredible to travel up to London with the family and watch Eve inspire a crowd of people at the climate protests. Watching her take on this amazing feat and stand up on stage after George Monbiot with her raw passion generated a unique and unforgettable energy in the air.
Did you learn any important life lessons while in production?
Making a carbon neutral film was a very significant lesson for us as filmmakers. We learned all about how a sustainable approach can be taken by mitigating the impact of production from the seed of the idea, as opposed to at the end when the damage has already been done. We realised the heavy consideration required both in budget and schedule, and recognised that a consciousness and patience was needed. Maybe this is just what the filmmaking world needs.
This more considered approach was then something that became a lesson not only in filmmaking, but in all aspects of life. Spending time in the Bubble definitely taught us to appreciate a slower pace, to allow time to take in and consider the rhythms and feelings of nature and people around you. This rethink can have such a positive impact on your mental health, and also help form more positive daily choices withcare for the environment in the back of your mind.
Find out more about our family-friendly live event with Eve, her mother, the filmmakers and Patrick Barkham here.
Learn more about Eve’s story @eve__w0rld
This film was made with the support of the BFI Doc Society Fund.
It was also supported by the Climate Story Labs.
Watch more Guardian Documentaries here
Sign up for the Guardian Documentaries newsletter here to be the first to hear about new releases and exclusive events.