Written by Conference Speaker Jim Merkel
The Hundred Year Plan is a film directed by Jim Merkel
in conjunction with The Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions about three societies that have a low carbon footprint with a high standard of living.
The timeliness of our film is punctuated by the trend in 82 nations for women to birth below replacement levels, a result of education, opportunities and access to contraception and legal abortion. At this historic moment, as population pressures ease, 56 nations have established policies to increase birthrates, fearing the effects of population decline.
Filmmaker Jim Merkel travels to Cuba, Kerala, Slovenia and back to the USA to meet empowered women who birth lightly and strive to reduce their ecofootprints. Such small families and footprints maintained for 100 years could com- passionately return half the earth to nature, averting the 6th extinction and reversing climate change. Today humanity uses 62 percent more than earth’s ecosystems can renew. The film asks, “Is a ‘New Woman’ emerging ready to rebalance earth?” We aim to meet these “New Women” and let them tell their story.
This past January Jim hitch hiked about Cuba and set up interviews with women who had a degrowth story to tell. The locations were chosen where the diversity of perspectives on Cuban life could be found—Havana, the small yet beautiful city of Sancti Spiritus, and the rural areas of Medio and Playa Larga on the Bay of Pigs.
After months of preparation the Community Solutions film team assembled in Havana on April 12, seven in total, filling a bright yellow VW van to the gills with camera gear, luggage and bodies. The team from the US included Deborah Shaffer as producer and interviewer, Bob Maraist from Fulcrum Films, as director of photography and Jim as director. The Cuban team included Pedro Martin, a filmmaker who assisted with setup, translations and logistics, Susana Meriño who captured sound, our driver, Angelo a delightful bike racer and Ronny, who secured all the gov- ernment permissions and guided us to locations. The team filmed ordinary educated Cubans, permaculture farmers, activists, medical workers, and educators.
Our Cuban producer is The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry, (ICAIC), which was founded in 1959 to broadly educate and mobilize the then illiterate population. ICIAC aimed toward imperfect cinema that advanced participation in film instead of passive con- sumption. With their assistance, we were able to conduct every interview that we’d requested.
We filmed every day with Bob and Susana up late into the morning downloading and logging footage. Now home we are busy transcribing, translating and editing a mountain of footage. The other day I was sitting in a café in Belfast,
Maine with a friend Chris Hughes translating the interview with one of our main characters, Leidy Casimiro. Toward the end of the interview, we’d asked if there was a “New Woman” emerging in Cuba. Leidy responded:
“Yes, there is a New Woman in Cuba. There are women, prepared to face any event, any challenge. They are very capable Cuban women, with a culture, as I said, both integral and comprehensive. The general conditions throughout the country are quite good, with everything we have learned in the schools from when we were young. Now, the New Woman that I also visualize and with whom I could join, is this woman who does not need much to feel happy. With a very few things and with her own hands she is able to create and recreate with her family what is needed to feel good.”
Leidy and her family are not strangers to adversity, coming from farming families where university education was rare. At 35 years old she is the mother of one boy, Dario, has a degree in Law and is getting her Ph.D. in Agroecology. When asked about her vision, she shared:
“The vision I have is here on this farm. I’d like to start a school where people can come and learn by doing. I see
myself as a teacher, to anyone who wants to learn about these advantages and the things we have done well, and all these proven technologies.”
One morning we filmed Leidy with muckboots shoveling cow manure into a biodigester built by her younger sister Chavely. Later, she worked on her thesis. Her focus is to “lay the methodological foundations for the transition to family farms, specifically in Cuba, which can also serve as an example for other countries in the region.” Between the volatility of global markets, the embargo and having lived through the “Special Period” her family came to value resilience and self-sufficiency. Leidy explains:
“My goal and that of our whole family was to produce everything needed to live. That is, not only food, but also energy and the technology to produce that food. We can thereby be more independent and not harm the environment— using solar energy, wind energy, and water energy. We are powerful because we produce all without fossil fuels, without hiring or bringing supplies from abroad.”
The biogas digester filled that morning will turn cow manure into methane for cooking, baking, dehydrating, refrigeration, lighting, and generating power. The effluent from the biodigester fertilizes their dozens of varieties of fruit trees and fields. This effluent turns out to be six times more valuable than milk to their system. In this way, the family produces over 98% of their food. They make soap, press cooking oil, grow rice and dry beans and, more importantly, feel unrushed and involve the children in the daily rhythm. Leidy summarizes her vision as “falling in love with the project of our life.”
This September Jim will attend the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest with a press pass and also present the topics of our film, The Hundred-Year Plan. Then I’ll travel into Slovenia where I have interviews lined up with activists, researchers and practitioners who are transitioning society toward Degrowth while working toward gender equality.
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