Hunter S. Thompson once wrote: "We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave . . . With the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark -- that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."

That heartbreaking ode to the U.S.'s attempt at peace, love and understanding is a mournful statement about the '60s generation and more than suitable to graft onto the absorbing documentary, "American Commune."

Nadine Mundo and Rena Mundo are sisters who were raised in a highly unorthodox environment: the U.S.'s largest and most successful commune to date, named The Farm. Born to a Jewish mother and a Puerto Rican father, Nadine and Rena were exposed to the warm strengths of a tight-knit community that worked together for the greater good. They also suffered through poverty, experienced the confusing break-up of their parents, and witnessed the bottom falling out of a beautiful idea. The siblings now work for MTV in New York and got together to film their return to the rural area near Summertown, Tennessee, where they were raised.

The Farm was lead by a charismatic, idealistic and powerful speaker named Stephen Gaskin. His wife, Ina May Gaskin, was an equally influential citizen of the commune, spawning one of the US's most trusted midwife facilities and the author of numerous books on childbirth. These two joined hundreds of other shaggy-haired idealists on the uncertain path to Nowheresville, Tennessee to build a self-sustaining, currency-free paradise.

This doc is ripe with fantastic footage of the commune's earliest days, featuring images that capture the building of shelters, the endless buses used to bring the group together and the reaping of the commune's first ever sorghum crop. At the height of its popularity and functionality, The Farm welcomed newcomers to its share-everything mentality free of charge, offering food, shelter and medical services. But there were rules: no meat, jewels, alcohol, make-up, divorce, or expressions of anger. The residents grew sustainable organic produce, ran a soy dairy, and founded "Plenty," a charitable arm that helped the poor in cities around the world. The commune ballooned to 1500 members in the 1970s, but eventually came undone in the mid '80s when resources could no longer sustain The Farm's "free" doctrine.

"American Commune" could have been a strictly historical doc, and at times, I wished that's what the Mundo sisters had done with this project. The characters, history and stories are so rich, that it almost felt distracting to rejoin Nadine and Rena's personal experiences. By that same token, it's a huge benefit to hear the family's bittersweet retelling of their time there, and witnessing the consequences of their commitment to a truly alternative lifestyle.

The Farm is one of the great hippy stories. While it scattered a group that relied on being together, it proved that with the right kind of rewiring, there is a path separate from the consumerism and isolation that riddles modern life. Nadine and Rena celebrate The Farm's successes and failures with empathy and respect.


Wed, May 1 3:30 p.m.

The ROM Theatre

Fri, May 3 5:30 p.m.

Hart House Theatre

Check out these other documentaries screening at Hot Docs:

Day 7: "This Ain't No Mouse Music"

Hot Docs Day 6: "12 O'Clock Boys"

Hot Docs Day 5: "Pussy Riot -- A Punk Prayer"

Hot Docs Day 4: "TPB AFK"

Hot Docs Day 3: "15 Reasons To Live"

Hot Docs Day 2: "Good Ol' Freda"

Hot Docs Day 1: "The Manor"
categories Movies