Local filmmaker’s commune documentary wins festival award
Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton, MA

[ Originally published on: Thursday, July 26, 2007 ]

Courtesy Acorn Productions LLC
A 1975 photograph shows Brotherhood of the Spirit founder Michael Metelica mugging for the camera atop his Harley motorcycle.

Local filmmaker Bruce Geisler recently won an award for Best Original Score at the Oxford International Film Festival for his film “Free Spirits,” a documentary about the Warwick-based Brotherhood of the Spirit, one of the most enduring - and controversial - communes in the Northeast.

Founded by eight teenaged boys in a tree house in 1968, the Brotherhood of the Spirit, later renamed the Renaissance Community, began as an experiment in nonmaterialism, combining ideals of Eastern religion with new-age mysticism. At its height in the early 1970s, the commune was home to an airplane, a Rolls Royce, a recording studio, a nationally recognized rock band, and more than 400 residents. Under the leadership of charismatic Michael Metelica, the commune polarized surrounding communities and eventually collapsed in 1988 due to internal conflicts.

Geisler, a member of the commune for four years in his early 20s, now teaches film production and screenwriting at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Attending a reunion of former commune members, Geisler was inspired by the variety of paths the group had followed since their days together in western Massachusetts.

“The more I spoke with them, the more I realized that the story that most needed to be told was the amazing 20-year history of the commune itself and its flamboyant, ill-fated founder and leader,” said Geisler, in a written statement about the film.

Little did he know, he was embarking on a project that would take nearly 15 years to complete. “Free Spirits” is a record of the Brotherhood of the Spirit, but it is also a record of an era, and the evolution of a utopian ideal as it encountered real-world struggle: government attempts to throw the Brotherhood off the land, burning of communal buildings, and even the violent murder of a commune member.

Since its release last year, the film has screened to packed houses at venues as varied as California’s Mendocino Film Festival to the Academy of Music in Northampton, where it broke the house record when 2,100 people showed up during the film’s two-day preview run.

“I was totally unprepared for the amazing emotional impact ‘Free Spirits’ had on me. It makes history come alive in a very immediate, very emotional way,” wrote David Lenson, editor of “The Massachusetts Review.” “It’s brilliantly edited, without a dull nanosecond. You have to see this film.”

For more information, or to purchase the film on DVD, visit www.acornproductions.net.

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