Costa Times January
31 , 2002
by Cassandra Braun
Different Kind of Village - Documentary
about a Russian community offers international truths
about the mentally disabled
old adage "It takes a village" may refer to children,
but a new documentary reveals it can speak to adults as
so Gunnar Madsen discovered when he traveled to Russia
to film a documentary on Svetlana, a small community of
mentally disabled people and volunteers who have been successfully
running an organic farm since 1994.
result, "Svetlana Village: The Camphill Experience
which captures the farm during the busy harvest season, serves
as an inspiring model for integrating the mentally disabled
to become contributing members of society.
he's a first-time filmmaker, Madsen's name may be familiar.
In the late '80s, he performed with the popular, quirky
a cappella group known as "The Bobs."
After 10 years of traveling with the group, the Berkeley
resident focused on composing music scores for movies and
television, and dabbled in some acting.
opportunity to go behind the camera came unexpectedly about
two years ago, when his brother, Peter Madsen, enlisted
his help in a project. Peter had been living and working
on the farm for five years and had fallen in love with
the solidarity of the 30-member community. He asked Madsen
to record their life on video to send to prospective donors.
was initially reluctant to take on the challenge. The rigors
of touring still fresh in his mind, Madsen said he was
initially hesitant to travel the distance.
"I get a stomachache just dropping off my wife at the
he said. Besides,
Madsen had virtually no experience making movies. The full
extent of his filmmaking credits included some employee training
videos he made for his father's sanitation company.
importantly, though, Madsen held fears that are not unique
about the world he would be entering.
"I was afraid to visit disabled people," Madsen
"But when he asked for help it was time to face my fears
and go for it."
receiving minimal funding for the camera and film, Madsen
set off for Russia. And from the moment he arrived at Svetlana,
Madsen said he was instantly at ease.
"It really felt like an idealized village from 100 years
ago," Madsen recalled. "The baker would walk by
and everyone says hello. It was so different from what I
In Svetlana, the mentally disabled residents, called "villagers,"
work side by side with the "co-workers," the name
given to the volunteers who run the organic farm. The villagers
do everything from harvesting potatoes to milking the cows
to making bread, while the "co-workers" are responsible
for more complex tasks, such as setting up booths at the
local farmers market to sell their cheeses and potatoes.
"It's a fascinating balance," Madsen said. "The
co-workers have the intellectual capacity to think about
and organize what work needs to be done. While the villagers
are adept at other tasks, like milking."
was created six years ago by Camphill, a nonprofit group,
which in 1939 created the first such village in Aberdeen,
Scotland, as a place where the mentally disabled could
contribute to a common goal and get the satisfaction of
feeling like necessary, contributing members of society.
The community became the model not only for Svetlana, but
for more than 30 similar Camphill villages around the world,
including several in the United States. One of the newest
communities opened in 1998 in Santa Cruz County.
spent nearly two weeks filming Svetlana. In the seven months
of editing more than 30 hours of footage, he says he gained
a deeper understanding and appreciation of the developmentally
disabled, which has changed his own world view.
"For them, a weekly picnic is just as important as fixing
the tractor," Madsen said. "They bring an ease
of life that makes this whole village thing work. You begin
to see there's room for me and everyone else in the world.
I had no idea how much that weighed on me."
has no plans to make documentary filmmaking a career but
would leap at the chance if the ideal project came his
way. Meanwhile, he plans to continue his music and recently
released a children's album, "Ants in My Pants."
His brother, Peter, currently works at a Camphill Village
in upstate New York. He continues to do fund raising for
Camphill and will be speaking after each screening.
All proceeds from the screening will go to the organization.