By: Claudia Sicondolfo
Screening in the Hot Docs program, Rule Breakers and Innovators, Tiny: A Story About Being Small, is a small film, with big thoughts about home, freedom, and the current condition of the American Dream. Contrary to its title, the film opens with wide shots of bigness: sprawling frontier landscapes; vast, open skies; and beautiful blue mountaintops. The opening narrator tells us this is “a story about home and how I came to find it.”
The film’s central character, co-director, co-producer and cinematographer is Christopher Smith, an approaching 30-year old who impulsively decides to buy a 5-acre plot of land in the Colorado mountains. As a child of military parents who moved around a lot, Christopher hasn’t really ever felt a sense of home, and he’d like to feel it on his new plot, but without imposing on the naturalness of land itself. He’d like his self-made dwelling to be tiny, no more than 200 sq. ft. With little to none construction experience, Christopher sets about to build his tiny house from “scratch” with a minimalist budget and 3-month time frame.
I won’t tell you whether or not Christopher achieves his goal, but I will tell you that Tiny is a small film with a big dream. As easy as it may be to make such obvious size comparisons, Tiny successfully shows us how living small can tackle the big problems of unsustainable North American living. With a Tiny House, you can build on wheels and by-pass building codes and zoning laws. You’ll avoid contributing to any market crash because you won’t be living beyond your financial means. And, because of the obvious space limitations of a 137 sq. ft. living space, you’ll do away with all of that unnecessary clutter.
Tiny’s soundtrack is quiet and calm, but its narrative speaks significant ideas about freedom; about achieving that age-old ideal of the American Dream through financially and economically sustainable means. You’ll meet a few “Tiny Houser’s” (like a family of 4, with a dog living in a 168 sq. ft. home!) and take a few tours inside their multi-functional, cheekily designed, debt-free Tiny Homes (desks pull out into beds and pull back into benches).
While Tiny is cheerful and optimistic, it is careful not to be overtly idealistic. Christopher definitely struggles with his construction calculations, with the weather, and with his relationship along Tiny’s 62-minute narrative. His co-director and co-producer Merete Mueller and co-cinematographer Kevin Hoth help us catch a short glimpse into the complexities of building a tiny home through their alternating POV/ wide-frame aesthetic. This small production team reminds us that while tiny houses may be small, they are not decisions to be made lightly.
Whether or not you’ll be inspired to give up your 5-bedroom/3-bath house and build your own tiny home is not really the point of the film. Along the way you’ll (probably) wonder how some of the film’s characters’ actually share such small spaces, but you’ll also (hopefully) question your own ideals of consumption and how they contribute (or interfere) with creating your own comfortable and sustainable sense of home.
Tiny: A Story About Living Small screens as part of the Hot Docs International Documentary Festival in Toronto. Its screening times are Sunday, April 28 at 9:15 pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox; Monday, April 29 at 4:00 pm at Scotiabank; Sunday, May 5 at 1:30 pm at The Revue.
Read more reviews by Claudia S.
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