In nearly every film festival show in Yellowknife, there always seems to at least one documentary that celebrates the people who dare to live outside the norm. Whether it’s a cross country biking across the mountains of Afghanistan or just building a house out of mud, these people find dissatisfaction with conventional living and dare to live on their own terms, no matter the challenges. In the case of director Suzanne Crocker and her family, they pack their things and live off the grid for nine months. Crocker documents their experience in the documentary All the Time in the World.
The film begins with the tick tock of a clock while the family describes their feeling of disconnection. “You’re expected to be a cog in the wheel” states family patriarch Gerard Parsons. That all changes when Gerard and Suzanne their son Sam, their daughters Tess and Kate, their dog Max and their cats James and Essie and take a boat to a cabin in the middle of the Yukon forest. Over the course of 9 months, they will live off the grid with little technology, no contact with the outside world and no clocks or watches. And Suzann will film it all with only one camera.
At first, there is the hard work that comes with the so called simpler life. They have to carry 100lbs of items to the cabin (“each boat load needs 3-4 canoe loads. Each canoe load needs 3-4 wheelbarrows”). They have to build a cash to keep the food out of reach of bears. And then there’s the building of the outhouse. That’s just for the first day. But the family takes it in great stride, often finding amusement in their work. When Gerard has to cut one half of a tree to keep it from falling on the cabin, he quips “I wish I wasn’t afraid of heights.”
With the isolation from television and the internet, you would think they would all get bored and want to go home. To Suzanne’s surprise and the audience’s, no one ever got bored. Even when there isn’t work to do, everyone finds a way to entertain themselves, now given the freedom to use their creative minds. It leads to many amusing moments with the kids. With no houses to go trick or treating, the kids keep circling around the same house while the parents play a variety of characters. The girls dress jars up as babies. In the film’s funniest scenes, the family holds a wedding between Kate and Percy Jackson and a funeral for their torn clothes. At the same time, these activities offer a heartwarming portrait of a family bonding and connecting, especially when they create Christmas gifts from scratch.
This family doesn’t fit the category of your typical off the grid family. They are not hippies but an average nuclear family. Suzanne admits they didn’t come here expecting any utopia. But time cut out of their equation, each family member gains a sense of contentment. They find a sense of joy making their own ice cream and patience in enjoying it when it’s the last chance to make it for the season. The film also brings up questions of what disconnects us from each other. “You’re used to say no not now when kids want to do something” says Suzanne. “”then I thought, oh ok. Making that switch was a really big mind shift.” The joy they feel just from getting fruit absorbs you.
Of course, the film acknowledges despite the family finding contentment, this life isn’t without its problems. Gerard has to leave to check up on work and Suzanne will often worry about him coming back. Gerard himself is not very good with an axe and cuts his finger twice in the same area. The family finds James covered in porcupine quills and they have to get it out. In the scariest scene, a black bear appears near their house and won’t go away. But in the end, they learn to take the good with the bad.
It is a sad day when they have to return to Dawson City. But as they board the windows and lock the doors, they get on the boat feeling a closer connection with each other. Suzanne did a Q & A after the screening, where she revealed the family had a hard time getting used to sleeping in their own rooms. To this day, they still don’t wear a watch and none of them have iPads. Suzanne herself came back with 500 hours of footage and took 3 years to edit. What is surprising is how All the Time in the World remains engaging from beginning to end. Conventional thinking says you can’t make an interesting movie out of a happy person and yet this film remains entertaining throughout because it offers a fascinating portrait of a life outside of conventional living, always finding a new way of doing conventional things. Most of all, it is a demonstration of how people can reconnect by disconnecting with so called social norms.