Off the Grid

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= Off The Grid is a 2012 Documentary by Dutch director Alexander Oey.

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Alexander Oey traveled throughout the United States and filmed communities who are taking matters into their own hands. 50 of the 46 U.S. states are nearly bankrupt. Over 13 million Americans are unemployed. More than 49 million people live below the poverty line.

How was it able to come that far? People seek for their own Utopia outside the financial system and government. Are these communities the right path and solution? Have they found effective alternatives, while governments worldwide are heading to bankruptcy?


From an Interview by Channah Bakker:

"According to Dutch film director Alexander Oey a big bang is needed for things to change. “Perhaps the current financial crisis is this big bang. People are starting to see the need of another way of life. Once life will get heavier, we will give up our luxury and we will have to survive on our own. Eventually people will search for alternatives and smaller economies, which are customized and therefore work better, will arise.”

Alexander Oey made the documentary Off the Grid for the Dutch Buddhist Broadcasting. Saturday the 10th of March his documentary was premiered in Amsterdam. In this film Oey follows Americans who have started to live in an alternative way. Some live out of necessity together in tents, others have deliberately chosen to leave their old lives behind them and try as much as possible to live outside the mighty system. One reason is fear for the future, especially for their children. They are visibly afraid of the current system that could have the consequence that their children have to live in poverty in the future. Without opportunities that they themselves once had. “There also is anger among many Americans.” Oey says. “Wall Street is bailed out with tax money which is provided by the common people. This is something that many Americans find hard to accept.”

Originally, the production company Submarine and the Buddhist Broadcasting had the idea to make the journey of the American writer Jack Kerouac. They would follow Americans in their quest of the unknown. Jack Kerouac wrote in the 50s of the last century the cult classic On the Road, in which he describes his travels across the United States and eventually Mexico. The Americans in Kerouac’s book formed the Beat Generation in the 50s. They stood at the cradle of the hippie movement. For Off the Grid Alexander Oey would travel the route of On the Road and he would interview the Beat Generation. This plan suddenly changed; Oey: “The now 80-year-olds weren’t enthusiastic about this. The original plan of the film changed gradually and Off the Grid became a journey through America along people who are trying to find new ways of living together.”

Alternative forms of living and working are currently booming. Not only in America but also in the Netherlands woolly socks are no longer just for ‘geeks’, but also for the yuppies. Green is hip. Organic supermarkets and restaurants are booming and people search their salvation in yoga and meditation, because originality and authenticity are more important than ever. This is perhaps because the present life is no longer predictable. “The securities that we thought we had, like a good roof and enough means to have a fine secured life, proved to be false certainties.” Oey says. “In response, many people want to go back to basics, back to the nature, our origin.”

Despite the increasing popularity and availability of alternative forms of life in the Netherlands, Off the Grid only focuses on America. “The effects of the recession were first noticeable in the United States. Here arose the first local currencies and also the small, local systems. In the USA it is, more than in Europe, a tradition that people will find the solutions for their problems themselves. Here in Europe, the idea prevails that the government will solve it, because the government is a lot more present here. It is interesting to see which initiatives are developing in America. We, Europeans, can learn much from it. “Oey says.

Oey ends up in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where he meets Susan Witt, head of the New Economics Institute. The New Economics Institute wants to develop a new economy. According to this institute, we are at a turning point in history: the differences between rich and poor are greater than ever and we are also facing major environmental problems. The current economy has failed and will therefore have to make way for a new economy in which equality and sustainability come first. The New Economics institute researches where such an economy already is emerging and how it can spread these initiatives around the world. The ideas of this institute are based on the ideas of EF Schumacher. Oey: “In 1973, Schumacher wrote the book Small is beautiful, he then already thought that this was better.”

The government should take back its power, according to Oey. “For 1970, the banking sector was highly regulated and the financial system worked well. In the 80ties, at the times of president Reagan, there came a wave of deregulation and financial institutions were getting more freedom. Unfortunately, banks are very powerful nowadays and their lobby is strong. This makes it difficult to change the financial world.” However we can really change something through ‘off the grid’-behavior, says Oey. “Companies find this very frightening. Because what will happen if everyone would start to live off the grid? Or what would happen if everyone were going to exchange? Then we would withdraw billions from the world economy.”

Some initiatives, such as doing your shopping with Berkshares -a local currency created by the New Economics Institute- instead of dollars, seem naive at first sight. But after watching Off the Grid you’ll also get sympathy for these people, who believe they can change the (Western) world from a local level. And if this happens en masse, this could perhaps be true, according to Oey.

It is no coincidence that this film was created in collaboration with the Buddhist Broadcasting. Oey could also be a Buddhist because of his baldhead and Asian appearance. Yet he says he is not really a Buddhist. “At least, I do not know how to act in order to be counted Buddhist. But I think the non-materialistic philosophy of Buddhism is beautiful.” Oey has frequently collaborated with the Buddhist Broadcasting. In 2002 he made together with Saskia Sassen and Arnout Boot the documentary Sandcastles. This was about the virtual character of money. Oey: “According to Buddhism, this is all perception, not reality. We must return to an economy that is based on something tangible, the economy should no longer be based on virtual alliances and virtual money. We have to stop with just focusing on consumption and saving the financial markets. Only then we can live independently, without the pressure of powerful markets.”

Oey is concerned about the power of big institutions such as Goldman Sachs, because in recent decades the governments have given more and more power away to the private sector. Oey sees an ‘off the grid’-life as the only option and wants his film to give hope: “By working together on a small scale, we can escape the power of large institutions and get control of our own existence and thus build our own security.” (

More Information



New Economics Institute