Just a few weeks ago, Audience Awards Film Festival honored documentarian Ondi Timoner (known for cult classic rock documentary DIG!, to start the list) with our first Maverick Award. Merriam-Webster defines maverick as “a person who refuses to follow the customs or rules of a group.” She, admittedly, falls into that category. In the Q&A before she received the award, she lists off the other awards she’s won. “The Rogue Award, the No Limits Award and the Auteur Award, now Maverick,” she tells moderator Anne Thompson of Indiewire, “I think the next will be Most Unemployable Award.”
The first episode of “Jungletown,” a 10-episode docuseries on Viceland directed by Ondi Timoner, two-time Sundance Grand Jury Prize recipient for “DIG!” and and “We Live in Public,” introduces us to green visionary Jimmy Stice, a floppy-haired white guy from suburban Atlanta on a mission to innovate how we humans live on Planet Earth. “I’m not trying to change the world,” he says. “I’m just trying to change my world in a way that’s good for the world.”
Viceland’s Jungletown is a reality show for people too cool to ever willingly watch a reality show, much less to admit publicly to watching a reality show.So go ahead and pretend, Vice/Viceland demo, that Jungletown is artisanally produced, small-batch monogenerational community-building unscripted social experimentation or whatever nonsense makes you feel genre superiority.Me, I’m just gonna come out and call Jungletownwhat it is: Kid Nation for grownups.
You remember Kid Nation, right? The CBS reality show — no genre pretensions here — about a group of children dumped in the New Mexico wilderness and asked to form an idealized society of governing and ethical interaction. The premise was that the purity of the pre-indoctrinated child mind would lead to breakthroughs in decency or equality. Instead, a very good series full of big ideas was pilloried as a show in which unsupervised kids drank bleach and the breakthrough star was an entitled brat who instructed people to “Deal with it!” as she imposed her will on less assertive underlings.
If you took those exact kid-testants from Kid Nation, a decade older and perhaps wiser, and deposited them in the jungle of Panama, removed the incentives of periodic gold stars and taught them a wealth of millennial buzzwords, the result would be Jungletown.
Produced and directed by Ondi Timoner (Dig!), Jungletown is the story of Kalu Yala, either “the world’s greatest sustainable modern town” or an exploitative educational institute/experiment, founded by entrepreneur Jimmy Stice.