The world premiere of Off the Grid, a documentary which screened at the Anthem Libertarian Film Festival at the Paris Resort in Las Vegas July 11-14, takes viewers to the very un-Washington home of Congressman Thomas Massie. The film won both the Best Libertarian Values Short Documentary Award and Audience Choice Award. In it, we find out that you can be a nerd, a farmer, and a congressman. It just takes a little work.
The film opens with Massie walking across his farm, thinking about things people have called him. “There are a lot of labels floating out there,” he says. “Libertarian leaning Republican, constitutional conservative, tea party deplorable. I’ve been called a redneck and a hillbilly and a nerd and a geek. I’ll go with any of those labels.”
The Tech Guy Farmer
We see the congressman working on his farm in eastern Kentucky. Along the way we find out how he got the nerd and geek labels. Before deciding on life on a farm, he studied robotics at MIT. He became a technology entrepreneur, developing virtual reality devices and registered 24 patents.
He and his wife wanted to raise their children on a farm, so he sold his business and they moved back to their childhood town, where he built a house with his own hands.
Massie explains in the film that he had a particular goal for the farm. “I wanted to build a sustainable money producing model”, he said, “that the next generation can use.”
The film details his success in creating a home that is not just off-the-grid in internet terms but is off-the-grid in terms of being stand-alone sustainable for energy and food.
Lord of the Farm
Massie’s nerdiness is not limited to his background in computers. He’s a Lord of the Rings fan. In the film he points to the land surrounding his farm. “You see that,” he says. “That’s the Shire.” The Shire is the idyllic place where the hobbits in Lord of the Rings lived. “Over those mountains,” he continued, “that’s Mordor. Oh, did I say ‘Mordor’? I meant Washington.”
In Lord of the Rings, Mordor is the center of evil.
He continued with the analogy. “And in my pocket, is my precious.” Precious was the name of the all powerful and corrupting ring in Lord of the Rings. In Massie’s case, Precious was his Congressional lapel pin.
“They give you this to wear,” he explained, “and you have to be careful not to be corrupted. People see it and treat you differently. They open doors for you. They avoid eye contact.”
Massie is not a fan of the effects of Precious.
Lessons from the Farm
After the film, Massie and the director of Off the Grid, Matt Battaglia, took questions from the audience.
An audience member asked how the principles Massie advocated in the film could be applied to urban America.
“I don’t want to pretend I know what the right answer is for urban America,” he said. “But the countryside is never more than 50 miles away. If you have more regulations, that helps the big guy centralize the food supply. A lot of urban folks want a park or an apple orchid to go to, so they come up with these contrivances like conservation easements and deed restrictions. Instead what they should do is try capitalism. A farm is the only honest way to keep the land in use. We do things like leasing some of our land to deer hunters and selling the meat from our cattle. We look for capitalistic ways to keep the land in use.”
Another audience member asked if Massie and his wife Ronda were home schooling their children.
“No,” Massie answered, “they go to the same public school that Ronda and I went to. Also, we could drive them to school, but we drop them off at the bus stop. For better or worse, kids learn a lot of stuff on the bus.”
How to Change D.C.
Another questioner turned the subject back to Washington and asked whether, since 2010, had the new wave of congressmen really changed anything.
Massie said that it only takes one person to blow the whistle. “A lot of bills pass with almost no one in the chamber,” he explained. “Most bills pass on a voice vote, but it only takes one person there to ask for a roll call. Sometimes it’s not about getting the right people there, it’s about getting the wrong people to do the right thing.”
An audience member asked Director Battaglia where he got the idea for the film.
“Well it’s all about the cycle of life and the life cycle of the land,” he said. Turning to Massie, responding to an earlier comment, he added, “And I don’t think it makes you look like a recluse.”
Battaglia said that the film is still on the festival circuit, but that people should check the producers’ website for updates on when they could see it. You can watch a preview, below.