0594 | Small Is Beautiful

This is a fairly straightforward but interesting documentary about a group of like-minded residents of Portland, Oregon, who have decided for various reasons – financial, personal, political, and so on – to build and live in small houses. It follows a few different people in particular who have either recently constructed or who are in the process of constructing their own tiny abodes, and includes lots of interview footage in which they discuss the driving forces behind their respective decisions to shun ‘traditional’ housing and everything that goes with it. So, for example, there’s one young couple with college debts who openly discuss the fact that they’ve been attending relationship counselling sessions, and thus their shared work as they build the new home appears to have become a way to reinforce their togetherness. Another young guy seems to be using the house-building process partly as a means to work out issues that he had/has with his late father. There are other similarly-emotional stories shared.

As an alternative lifestyle choice it’s quite an inspiring one in many ways, and I can certainly understand why people choose to do it, with several attractive reasons put forward by those interviewed here: there’s clearly a good sense of community between the tiny house builders, for starters, and we see lots of help and advice being offered, though that does seem to be something you could apply to Portland more generally. So the documentary does offer some food for thought but it’s a relatively short and slight film at just 68 minutes, and for me a little more material examining the logistics of actually living in such a house would have been welcome. The brevity of the piece means that little time is spent with Dee Williams, the pioneer behind the movement, which is a shame; also, we never see inside the finished houses owned by the people we’ve watched working throughout a cold, north-western winter. Perhaps I’ve just been conditioned to expect this after years of watching TV shows like Grand Designs, but I was hoping to see what they looked like when completed. I’m such a traditional-house-dwelling conformist!

Directed by: Jeremy Beasley.
Written by:
Jeremy Beasley.
Cinematography: Jeremy Beasley.
Editing: Florence Mathilde Holmes.
Certificate:
PG.
Running Time:
68 minutes.
Year:
2015.

Comments 2

  1. Tom July 23, 2016

    Damn hippie-traditional-house-dwelling conformist. 😉

    Part of me gets why people would want to live in these small houses for a time, but the other part of me thinks they’d ultimately grow tired of those cramped quarters in a matter of a few years. I watched this show and have forgotten what it’s called, but it had a family of like 5 or 6 downsizing to one of these things and I just couldn’t understand that. But this thing sounds like it has some good stories behind it even if it’s a brief thing. I’d give it a watch

    • Stu July 23, 2016

      From what I can gather, if I moved to Portland, then due to my utterly boring conformity I would instantly be one of the oddest people within the city limits.
      This is a decent documentary that achieves what it sets out to achieve; you get some insight into why people choose to do this, but ultimately not enough of an appreciation of what life in a house like this would be like, which is a shame. I have a friend who lives in a similarly small place (a houseboat) and while I see the appeal I also know it’s a struggle for her, particularly during the winter months. There’s little sense of that here.

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