Arts and Entertainment

The hippies had a hunch: The Clyde Theatre in Langley shows documentary about back-to-landers

Maeyowa is one of the people interviewed by filmmaker Kevin Tomlinson in 1988 and again in 2005 for his documentary
Maeyowa is one of the people interviewed by filmmaker Kevin Tomlinson in 1988 and again in 2005 for his documentary 'Back to the Garden: Flower Power Comes Full Circle.'
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Kevin Tomlinson

They carried the ideas of the ’60s forward and rejected a typical American lifestyle.

They are defenders of the earth. They are people who never gave up the utopian ideas of their baby boomer youth that sought a simpler life; a life that identified being rich as something that had everything to do with love and nothing to do with money.

In 1988, 20 years after Woodstock, filmmaker Kevin Tomlinson filmed and interviewed a group of back-to-the-land “hippies” in Eastern Washington during a community gathering. They were living off the grid, insulated and isolated from mainstream culture.

In 2006, he tracked down his subjects again to find out what had become of their utopian plans and dreams.

The result is his documentary film “Back to the Garden: Flower Power Comes Full Circle,” which will be shown at the Clyde Theatre in Langley at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6.

The film captures a time-lapse view of these back-to-the-landers told through the personal stories of the families, who had lots of freedom but little cash.

In the decade of flower power, hippies were satirized and vilified for rejecting materialism and corporate culture. In the 1970s they stopped the war, started communes and food cooperatives and championed back-to-the-land lifestyles and environmental sustainability.

It makes sense that this film will be shown at the Clyde because its owners, Blake and Lynn Willeford, were also part of a back-to-the-land movement in the ’70s on Whidbey Island, along with many other longtime South End folks. Back then, it wasn’t yet fashionable to be “sustainable” and to live off the grid. The promise of a different style of living called them out of the mainstream to places such as the islands of Puget Sound or to Eastern Washington.

During the Reagan-era ’80s, Woodstock became a distant memory and hippies had virtually disappeared from everyday life.

Years after his early interviews, Tomlinson wanted to know “where all the flowers had gone” — what had happened to all the people who had such strong ideas about an earth-friendly lifestyle.

What he found was that this relatively small contingent of back-to-the-landers in the hills of the Okanogan were not only still together, they were thriving and were raising families, while refining their hippie idealism. The mainstream culture that had so dismissed and marginalized them, had forgotten all about them.

But the images he shot made a strong impression on Tomlinson. He showed the footage to a producer friend.“I had never forgotten these interviews trapped in a box all those years, and I mentioned that I’d shot these remarkable scenes from 20 years ago,” Tomlinson said.
“She was very excited and asked me to send her some brief samples — probably to see if I was exaggerating or not.”
Tomlinson said that while he was going through the notes and interviews and editing them into a timeline, he was reminded of the romanticism and idealism that Maxfield Parrish had depicted in his paintings.
Additionally exciting was that the interviews were sincere, heartfelt and particularly timely in the context of the current global and economic crisis. Tomlinson realized that what these off-grid hippies were talking about back in 1988, reflected the main issues on today’s front pages and websites. Even before Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” (the Oscar-winning documentary that made global warming the number one topic of conversation) sent a wave of alarm through society and modern trends touted “living simple” as fashionable, these backcountry folks were living lives of sustainability, living off the land, eating what they raised, caring for the earth, questioning authority, using self-reliance and promoting community responsibility. They had committed themselves quietly to an earth-friendly, community-friendly life, which blossomed over the course of 20 years.
Meanwhile, back in the world of the corporate consumer, the impact of climate change, an unpopular war, shopping-as-patriotism and the green movement took center stage in mainstream discussion.
“In the midst of the Bush years, the Iraq war, global warming and ‘An Inconvenient Truth,’ the voices of these flower children sounded prophetic,” Tomlinson said, “as if their voices were speaking to us from the past, asking whether we really think we can sustain this level of global consumption of goods and fossil fuel.”
They were also asking: “How do we define real wealth?”
Tomlinson set out to find his original subjects again with new questions. Had their radical off-grid lifestyles and ideals survived? Had anyone gone mainstream? What about their children — how did they rebel against the rebel generation?
Most of all, he wanted to find out whether their country dreams of a better life had held together — or did they return to the mainstream, as many had in the ’90s?
The adventure that followed is in the documentary, which offers insights into one of the most iconic social movements of the past century. It offers a new view for anyone who grew up then, or was affected by ’60s counterculture or wasn’t even born yet.
The non-conformist lifestyle of these aging back-to-the-landers and their now-thriving families firmly insulated from global economic shocks is revealed in the film as being ahead of its time and wise beyond its years.
The find out more about the film, visit

Visit for screening information.


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