Australia (MIFF 2022)
Directors: Bruce Permezel, Rhian Skirving
Producers: Nick Batzias, Charlotte Wheaton
Executive Producer: Virginia Whitwell
Joost Bakker investigates what it would be like to grow all the food you ever needed, leaving no waste as you do so, right at your doorstep.
Extending a lifetime’s worth of zero-waste activism, visionary designer Bakker devises the Future Food System, a self-sufficient residence that provides shelter, food and energy while reusing any by-products as fuel or fertiliser. Joined by esteemed chefs Matt Stone and Jo Barrett, he works with a team of builders, engineers, and experts in agriculture, aquaponics and biochemistry to realise the project at Melbourne’s Fed Square – culminating in the launch of a unique farm-to-table restaurant.
Rhian Skirving (Off Country, MIFF Premiere Fund 2021; Rock n Roll Nerd, MIFF Premiere Fund 2008) and prolific TV documentarian Bruce Permezel, the latter making his big-screen debut, co-direct this riveting MIFF Premiere Fund–supported film that follows the Future Food System’s journey from conception to completion. Candid footage of Bakker, Stone and Barrett reveals the humanity behind these stalwarts of Australia’s design and culinary scenes – from admissions of failure to moments of sheer joy – while also foregrounding how the building (which still stands along the Yarra) evidences the possibility of integrating, rather than rejecting, nature’s self-sustaining processes. Impactful and truly inspirational, this is an insider’s look not just at a bold experiment in eco-friendly living, but a game-changing blueprint for the future.
THE CURB / Andrew F Peirce / 17 November 2022
Before the pandemic hit, environmental campaigner and champion of Zero Waste Living, Joost Bakker, came up with the idea of a self-sustaining home that would give the occupants a circular system of water, energy, food and shelter. Bakker, alongside esteemed chefs Matt Stone and Jo Barrett, established in Federation Square in Melbourne the Greenhouse.
Filmed over a year, Greenhouse by Joost documents the ups and downs of establishing this self-sustaining house and, after its world premiere at 2022’s 70th Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) had a theatrical release across the country supported by Joost conducting a nation-wide tour with sold out Q&A sessions of the film. Supported by the MIFF Premiere Fund and directed by Rhian Skirving and Bruce Permezel, Greenhouse by Joost follows the process intimately, from the social media success to the impact of the pandemic on the house. While Greenhouse by Joost doesn’t present a solution for all, it is an optimistic and hopeful film that proposes a clean future for those who can afford it. Included in the film are stories from inventors, farmers, and industrial practitioners who are working to create circular, clean and regenerative practices in their field of work.
Why do you think that people are so excited for the story that you’re telling?
JB: To be honest, I think that if I did this 10 years ago there would have been very little interest in comparison to now. I actually did this 12 years ago, and the first greenhouse was as ambitious, if not more, than this one. But the times are different. And the awareness around needing to change is different. There’s a lot more people that suffer allergies, and there’s obviously a lot more concern and awareness around the environment. In 2008, when the first greenhouse was built, there was still a lot of debate about whether there was global warming or whether we were causing harm to the environment. And now it’s on everybody’s mind.
With the impact of climate change being felt on the East Coast, how does that play into the narrative of the Greenhouse?
JB: It’s interesting. On Sunday morning we had a couple of farmers on the panel on the Q&A, and one of them said, “We are under so much pressure to provide the cheapest possible food and the volume of food at the moment.” And that doesn’t allow farmers to have any time left to try and regenerate their farms to plant trees, so it was really surprising for me to hear them say that this idea needs to be supported. We all need be growing more food to take the pressure off the farmers so that the farmers can restore the environment and the damage that’s been done, especially in the last 50 or 60 years. I think that that’s the reason why this film is resonating with people. Everyone’s affected now, whether it’s bushfires or flooding or the cost of energy and the cost of food. And I think due to the pandemic, people have now realised that we can pivot to be much more agile. The most frustrating thing about human beings is that constant fear of change. I just find it bizarre, making a mistake a million times over, at some point you need to change, you know, and that’s the most frustrating thing about human beings. This is not a compromise here. I’m not talking about giving something up. I’m talking about gaining something. Your life becomes richer when you live in an ecosystem. You feel better you don’t have you don’t suffer as many of the afflictions that people have. You’re living in an ecosystem. You wake up with the sound of water flow. You’ve got all these living things around you and you’re surrounded by plants and the constant changing seasons and things popping up. I think that that’s why it really resonates with people, especially when they were physically in the house. It smelt like walking through an ecosystem. It didn’t smell like an ordinary house, because there were so many different things going on. The water flowing, the fish, the mushrooms, and the way that the light entered the space. That’s what I hope every house will be in the future.
What has living with a renewable, circular system done for your mental health?
JB: I’m a deeply optimistic person. And I’ve observed a lot. It’s what I was taught at school, to look around our immediate environment to see what’s going on. It could be birds could be insects, it could be things flowering. I’m always in awe of nature. But at the same time, because of who I am, I get bombarded by all the land clearing in the Amazon or what’s going on in Tasmania right now. You’re constantly aware of the impact that we’re having. From a mental health point of view, I have my dark times like everyone else does. Even spending 10 minutes starting your day in the garden, instead of starting your day on social media, it means that your day will start very differently and becomes a very different day. I woke up this morning and sat in the sun and watched the sunrise. That was the way that the house was set up as well. It was set up so that the easterly sunrise came straight in so that when you were in the kitchen, you were hit by the sun first thing in the morning, especially in winter. And then in winter you had this beautiful sunlight in the kitchen where you were all day long, including sunset. It was designed so that in summer it had none of that midday sun or when the sun starts to get hot coming into the space. I believe you should be able to drive into an urban area and see where east is, to see where north is because of the orientation of the houses. But there’s no thought going into that at all. And I find that just bizarre because access to natural sunlight is one of the most important elements on earth.
You’ve been engaging with audiences through social media for years. What experiences have you had where people have been influenced by what you’re putting into the world?
JB: It certainly surprising to me how many people have started doing something because of following the project. When you’re doing it, and you’re posting about it, and you get a lot of views, you don’t realise that it resonates with people, and that it forms a call to action. Which is what so many people have said, “I built my own wicking bed,” or “I started looking into house batteries,” or “I lined the inside of my extension with dura panel.” When I go to schools, I always say, so much energy goes into protesting and asking politicians to be the change and to implement the change. But there’s nothing more powerful than being the change yourself and implementing change and behaving differently. I think that people underestimate the power of their own action. If you do something differently, then the people that surround you in your life are aware of what you’re doing and it becomes a ripple effect. Silo, our zero-waste restaurant was a classic example of that. It inspired people because it was completely zero-waste. It was that project that proved that it could be done. And once it’s done right, then there’s no excuse.
What conversations did you initially have with the producers and directors to know they were the right people to tell the story?
JB: It was Paul Wiegard and Nick Batzias who approached me 10 years ago to produce this, so it’s been a long time in the making. Bruce makes such beautiful films, and the work that I saw just resonated. He lives off grid and he was so fascinated by it. He was with me all the time. We didn’t notice him. I don’t know how many thousands of hours of footage he took, but it was like he was part of the project and captured so much of the of the footage beautifully. I think he deep down he believed in this as an idea. The thing that I love most about the film is that it highlights that we have these brilliant people living amongst us. We don’t need to rely on an Elon Musk coming along and saving us. There are people who have got brilliant ideas next door to you and in your community. There are more than enough solutions on how to solve all of our problems, we just don’t realise it and we don’t celebrate them and celebrate those people. What Bruce and Rhian and the whole team did really well is weave the social media story in naturally. I know that as a filmmaker that footage isn’t ideal, it isn’t perfect. Because the project was live, often what they were trying to capture they couldn’t capture the next day, and I think that they really cleverly weave the social media story in. As much as social media is getting negative wrap, this project probably wouldn’t have had the success that it had and the reach that it had without it. I’m talking to people in the US about housing and about using crop residue. I’m talking to Europe, China, all because of this little thing that I’m holding in my hand. It’s insane when you think about it. We’ve had the white pages, the yellow pages, a map that you bought every year for the roads, you own a calculator, you had a torch, you have a camera. Think about like this one piece of technology and how much it’s saved. The amount of paper that doesn’t get printed. It’s crazy to say, but I think Steve Jobs has probably done more for the environment than any other person just through this one piece of technology that means that we don’t need to buy all this other stuff.
How does the role of the identity of being Australian play into your work?
JB: I came from the Netherlands, and the first thing I noticed was the all the different cultures when we moved to Monbulk, Victoria. I met people from Sicily, there were Croatians and Vietnamese. The area where I lived had fertile ground, so there was a lot of people that wanted to farm and would come and settle there and grow whatever it is. So the first thing that struck me was the multiculturalism of the place. The Netherlands is famous for being tolerant and that sort of thing, but ultimately, most of the people in my community almost all were Dutch, and that wasn’t the case when I arrived at school in Australia. To settle in a country on the other side of the globe, you need a special kind of union. There’s not many people that decide, “Okay, I’m going to go and move from Vietnam or from Europe or some other part of the world and settle on the other side of the world.” A lot of people go back because they either miss their family or they just can’t settle here. I think Australia has quite a unique DNA, because you’ve got so many millions of people that have settled from other parts of the world, and they have a spirit that is adventurous, that is practical. That’s what I tried to celebrate with the film, because I don’t think Australians feel that way about themselves. We have this view of “Other countries are always doing this.” The amount of times that I hear “Sweden’s doing this”, if you actually dig down, they are not sustainable either, burning rubbish and turning it into electricity. Can someone explain to me what is possibly sustainable about that approach? I think we’re so hard on ourselves, and I just wish that we would realise we’re not and stop beating ourselves up over the fact that we’re somehow not sustainable. There’s no other country on Earth that has more solar panels. I got my house in 2006, that’s not that long ago, and there were 65,000 houses with solar panels. Today, there’s over 3 million houses with solar panels. That doesn’t include the factories and warehouses and farm sheds. That’s just houses. The transition that Australia is going through right now, and the reduction in energy consumption in this country is incredible. We’re going to use much less energy than we were 10 years ago per person. And I think we’re only just scratching the surface as we’re transitioning towards a sustainable economy. I’m really deeply optimistic about that, because I think we’re well on the way and we’re not really celebrating that, and we’re not really talking about it. We’re just constantly talking about the negative side of this. I’m a big believer that in 2040, we’ll look back at 2020 saying that was the moment that we all decided that we need to change what we do and how we go about doing it. It’s not just in Australia, like the turning of fashion into a circular product. The Levi Strauss CEO came out and said that by 2025 Levi’s will use no virgin cotton. That’s the world’s biggest jeans maker saying that no virgin cotton mill going into the jeans, it’s all going to come out of existing jeans. There’s technology now to turn clothing into a circular product, just like copper or steel. If you think about how much water is used, how land is used, how many chemicals and pesticides you use to grow cotton, that’s the impact on Earth. Then we’ve got all this land left to start regenerating and planting trees and create ecosystems. That’s why I’m deeply optimistic about it. But I think that we needed to be shaken and concerned. If we’re not all going, “We really need to change,” then we won’t change. It’s really an exciting time in human history. I think it’s the most innovative time in human history.