“If you want to change the world, you have to get your hands dirty.”
In 2009 a group of land activists in London set up an eco-village on a patch of waste ground earmarked for development near to Kew Bridge. Their aim was to try to live a sustainable, non-wasteful existence and to tackle the issues of living an environmentally friendly lifestyle in the corporate society head on.
Grasp The Nettle (website here) is an intriguing, intimate and at times quite powerful documentary of the group, filmed as events unfolded. Deciding that the only way to properly document the eco village was to live in it, documentary film maker Dean Puckett was witness to situations and characters that range from the heartwarming to the completely surreal. Avoiding political polemic, Grasp The Nettle does a good job of giving an even-handed portrait of the rag-tag community, showing us multiple human stories. As the eco village grows in size (it was featured in the mainstream media multiple times) we are drawn into the lives and issues surrounding the group attempting to live their sustainable lifestyle. Taking in legal battles with the developers, a second encampment being set up on Parliament Square in order to protest the war in Afghanistan, the presence of MI5 whistleblower/cross dresser/Jesus Christ impersonating David Shayler, arrests and more, Grasp The Nettle is an important film that will keep you engaged from start to finish.
There are multiple poignant moments as the idealistic young people come face to face with various challenges ranging from the police, accommodating homeless people, internal factions and external threats. Paranoia, violence, and the inevitable arrests are all faced with a youthful optimism and energy that is quite infectious. Dean Puckett does a good job of keeping himself out of the way, pausing only to comment here and there as he explains which direction he has chosen to take the documentary and why. There is an endearing sincerity to his low-key style and desire to remove himself from the frame as much as possible.
Despite the dramas and setbacks faced by the group, Grasp The Nettle is ultimately remarkably uplifting. It would be easy to dismiss the eco-activists as a group of naive idealists, however one of the things that comes across is just how clearly they have thought everything through. Always aware that the odds are stacked against them, the group refuses to allow that to stop them. Their actions – and the act of documenting their actions – are just as meaningful even if the goals were not achieved.
A terrific insight, a powerful film and a great snapshot into a moment in London that otherwise would likely have been forgotten.
Having been premiered on the 21st June at the Open City Documentary Festival, Grasp The Nettle will be will be screening at the whirled art cinema near to Brixton on the 2nd and 3rd of September (259-260 Hardess Street Loughborough Junction London, near to Brixton and Herne Hill – map here) and should go onto Video On Demand shortly.
Dave is the Editor of TLFR and a freelance writer. As well as a guest on BBC radio and regular appearances on the television show Reel Review, he has written for The Guardian, We Got This Covered, the International Political Forum and more.