Jonathan Berman joins BYOD to discuss his stunning features, “Commune” and “My Friend Paul,” along with his latest project, “People of Earth.”

Expanding on the Black Bear Ranch commune, as well as his bank-robbing buddy Paul, and how the 60’s have been a through line for his work, Jonathan is engaging and has a resounding humor and the good-natured manner of your favorite college professor.

He shows his creative inspirations and offers advice to aspiring doc makers in this full length interview.

Watch new episodes of BYOD live each week on Tuesdays at noon on TheLip.TV, or tune in for the archived replay starting here on the following Thursday.

BYOD is hosted by Ondi Timoner, director of “DIG!,” “JOIN US” and “WE LIVE IN PUBLIC,” and has the rare distinction of winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance twice. Each week the show explores a different documentary filmmaker or aspect of filmmaking, with special guests and a live Q&A– diving deep into creative process and the business realities of producing and distributing films. Ondi shares her insider views, opinions, and personal stories, welcoming audience participation. BYOD aims to entertain, inform, and elevate documentaries in general by bringing attention to films and film makers that deserve exposure.

Jonathan Berman’s non-fiction feature films explore subculture and identity, challenging how alternative people, groups and ideas are represented in media.

His film, “Commune,” (2006), delves into a seminal 1960’s commune who ultimately discover that each person has their own idea of utopia. The film premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival, and played in movie theaters, top festivals, and on the Sundance Channel and on DVD from First Run Features.

His first directorial effort, “The Shvitz” (1994) is a popular exploration of the last traditional American steambaths that was supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and released on DVD by New Video.

“My Friend Paul” (1999), his second documentary, is an edgy look at the intersection of mental illness, friendship, and crime.

Berman’s current project “People of Earth,” explores the legacy of George Van Tassel and his fantastical Integratron dome near Joshua Tree, California.
The project uses the story to consider the how 20th century technology intersected with belief in Southern California counterculture.

Jonathan Berman is an Associate Professor of Film and Video at Cal State University in San Marcos. He lives in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles.


00:01 BYOD Intro
00:17   Jonathan’s connection to the subculture of the Black Bear Ranch commune.
04:07 “Commune,” Clip: Peter Fonda at Black Bear.
05:07 How to start a commune.
06:42 Peter’s upbringing in Long Island, and learning the secrets of life.
09:20 “Commune,” Clip. Strong-arming rockstars to get money.
10:00 Getting footage of the Commune.
12:08 The conflict between individual expression and collectivity–making rules.
13:24 “Commune,” Clip. Sharing everything.
15:10 How the commune came together and continues to survive.
17:18 Uncovering different dynamics between the commune members and editing for over a year.
20:07 “Commune,” Clip: Children of Black Bear.
21:00 Well adjusted and less well adjusted residents of the commune.
23:46 “Commune,” Clip: Allegra the shining star of Black Bear.
25:28 The magic number of characters and screening response.
28:21 “Commune,” Clip: The Shiva Lila leave Black Bear.
31:01 Spiritual traps and lessons learned from the 60’s.
34:37 “My Friend Paul,” Clip.
37:25 Filming in prisons and the power of film (and wardens!)
39:50 “My Friend Paul,” Clip: The criminal mind.
41:30 The film Jonathan really wanted to make–including himself in the frame.
45:28 Jonathan’s moral: “Go for it…but within reason.”
47:04 Advice from a teacher to people interested in making a documentary.
48:52 Thanks and Goodbye!

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