Actor Woody Harrelson is well know for his film performances; “Indecent Proposal”, “White Men Can’t Jump,” “The People V.S. Larry Flint,” and the dark romantic comedy “Natural Born Killers” come to mind, as well as his character as the affable young bartender in the TV sitcom “Cheers.” However, outside of the activist community, few are aware of his ongoing environmental work and his commitment to peace and justice issues, or know that Woody is a certified yoga instructor, vegetarian and a raw foods enthusiast.
Last fall Woody came to Seattle to screen his new film “Go Further” and to show his support of the upstart local organization Living Paradise. Living Paradise (www.livingparadise.org), a project of the Therurgy Foundation, is dedicated to the creation of a Restaurant and Living Center in the Seattle area offering organic, vegan raw foods and juices, a sustainability store, yoga studio, visionary art gallery and a networking hub for Seattle’s “cultural creatives.”
Living Paradise provided the venue, a site at Pine and Olive in the Capital Hill area of Seattle, the night before Halloween. I was familiar with the location, having been there before for nonviolence trainings in 1999 in preparation for the “Battle of Seattle” WTO resistance action. The place hadn’t changed much, still a black, gothlike cave, but the LP crew had brightened it a bit with the addition of some visionary art, candles, a few comfortable couches, and organic raw vegan hors d'oeuvres and juices. Unfortunately I couldn’t appreciate it much, as I was coming down with the flu and feeling somewhat woozy. But I wasn’t going to miss this chance to talk with Woody Harrelson! I arrived early, cased the place, and took a position near the door. About a half hour before showtime Woody walked in, without fanfare and without escort. He looked like regular guy, casually dressed with a knit cap, someone who would easily blend in the urban street. He had just flown in from Hawaii. Someone said he was dealing with jet lag; Woody decided to take a walk in the neighborhood and go for drink.
The crowd was starting to build. We made our way into the screening area and found seats. After a bit, Blue Cobalt, director of the Theurgy Foundation and Living Paradise, addressed the audience with a presentation about the center and its vision. Currently Living Paradise is more virtual, than real, but it is about to embark on a raw foods catering and restaurant business, which proceeds will be used to support its other goals.
When it was time for Woody to introduce the film, he had yet to return from his Capital Hill tour. A bit more time passed and the decision was made to run the film.
Further, Go Further Directed by Ron Mann, known for his work on the film “Grass,” a “highly” entertaining documentary about the history of marijuana use and its suppression in the US, “Go Further” is a lighthearted docu-drama focused on what Woody calls The “SOL” Tour, for Simple Organic Living. It chronicles the adventures a group of sustainability/eco-activists (including Woody Harrelson) on an educational outreach mission. The group travel together in “The Mothership”, a greyhound sized, biodiesel run, eco-groovy custom bus, bank-rolled by Woody, inspired by Ken Kesey’s bus “Further.”
“Further” was the famous ride of the Merry Pranksters described in Tom Wolf’s book “The Electric Kool Aide Acid Test.” Much of the hippie aesthetic that would dawn on the San Francisco scene in the late sixties can be traced back to the Merry Pranksters who openly used psychoactive drugs, wore outrageous attire, performed bizarre acts of street theater, and engaged in peaceful confrontation with not only the laws of conformity, but with the mores of conventionality. As Kesey put it: "What we hoped was that we could stop the coming end of the world." "You’re either on the bus, or you're off the bus," became the metaphor for the Merry Pranksters*
Fueled by the inspired high of their own missionary zeal, the folks on Woody’s bus work in an effort to turn the culture around and “stop the end of the world.” They travel down the west coast from Seattle WA to Santa Barbara CA, pausing at road stops and towns along the way to enlighten the people they encounter to the benefits of biodiesel, organic raw foods, the use of sustainable materials, such as hemp, cork, bamboo, organic cotton, in clothing and building materials, as well as other aspects of healthy living, such as hatha yoga and meditation.
The film has the feel of a professionally made home movie. There is an intimacy and authenticity to it. Woody is present, but is not the “star.” The focus is on the other activists, the roles they take, the people they encounter, and the changes they go through as they travel together. Think “reality show,” but with people who are actually doing something worthwhile. The crew included a raw foods chef, an environmental activist, a lawyer, a yoga instructor, a web designer, a driver, Woody, Woody’s personal assistant, and a young man named Steve, who Woody met on the “Will and Grace” set. These individuals provided support and took their turns cycling the 1,300 mile highway of coastal US Rt. 1 in their educational outreach mission.
Providing a sense of story line, the film focuses on the evolution of Steve. Introduced as a junk food addict, he goes though a transformation in consciousness and health awareness as his diet and habits are radically transformed. His youth, photogenic features and natural charisma don’t hurt the film, either. His is the archetypal “Fools Journey,” or as Woody puts it “Jedi’s Journey.”
There are some great moments in cinema verite. In South Beach, Oregon, Steve encounters some folks in a car on their fourth day of a crystal meth binge, huffing gas from a computer dust aerosol spray. “100 hits off one can for $3 bucks at Office Max,” the somewhat disorientated young woman of the trio informs him. Steve offers them some raw seaweed/chocolate treats. The girl chases it with a swig from her quart of coke. They go on to discuss the amount of clear cutting they’ve witnessed in their short lives growing up in the surrounding community.
Another quite sweet scene occurs when the bus goes to Ken Kesey’s farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon. They converse with Ken and view the original Prankster bus “Further,” well on its way of rusting back into the earth. The Smithsonian Museum had commissioned Kesey to build a replica of Further for an exhibit and there’s a great shot of FURTHER and THE MOTHERSHIP facing each other, nose to nose. The warm meeting the crew had with Ken was particularly poignant, as he was to die later that year.
Gett'in On The Bus At the end of the film Woody came to the front to give a short talk and answer some questions from the audience. Then the evening transitioned into one of festivity and dance. Of course everyone wanted to connect with Woody and I waited patiently. In awhile, Michael from Living Paradise was able to get Woody’s attention and suggested that we make our way to the bus, the same “Go Further” which was parked outside to conduct the interview. Here I had the opportunity to chat with Woody (plus a few friends) about his work and vision for a more sustainable way of living. Woody began by giving us a tour of the bus’s interior:
WOODY: Solar panels run all the lights and the bus runs on biodiesel, but we can run it on straight vegetable oil. We have that too, a vegetable oil tank. But the solar panels power everything in the bus and the biodiesel powers it when we are moving. (pointing to the floor) This is sustainabily harvested cork, harvested every 10 years so they don’t kill the tree. Everything, all that you’re sitting on is hemp and organic cotton, the sheets and everything. The idea being, not like I’m stuck on it being hemp. Its fine with me if its organic cotton. I just don’t like the use of pesticides for the stuff I put on my body.
JONNIE: Was this the maiden voyage of the bus? How far did you go, how far south? From Seattle to …
W: Santa Barbara.
J: Do you ever think you’ll take it East. Take it to Midland? (Woody was born in Midland Texas, also a former home of our President, George W. Bush)
W: Yeah, I think so. We were talking about that. We want to do it. I think the East Coast, surprisingly enough, will have alot of people who are into it.
MICHAEL of Living Paradise: Vermont, there are a lot of hot spots
W: Yeah, Vermont, Ithica
J: It would be tricky to go into territory where there is less preaching to the choir. Many of the folks we see you encounter in the course of film are right there with you philosophically, yet we see you doing outreach as well.
W: The thing is, its not so much converting people, as getting the voices in the choir singing together. Because I read, I believe it was in “The State of the World,” I’m not sure, they found this category of people for which they had to actually create a new category. And this category represents 26 % of the adult population. They want a new society, a new culture based on love and sharing and kindness and art, you know what I mean? Caring about all the things that really matter J: More of a cosmic consciousness orientation towards our being.
W: Yeah, well anyway, 26% of the adult population. But here’s the most interesting fact about it, that they don’t know that there are so many of us. Now don’t you feel that sometimes? I feel it all the time....”
J: Sometimes it’s harder for people to see the linkage of one thing to another. In the film you manage to link up nutrition and awareness and toxicity, different factors that on the surface could seem unrelated, but are related causal factors.
W: I’d say Ron Mann (the film’s director) articulated the whole message better than I’ve ever been able to. He just got everything in there, you know. That is all the stuff I care about, but he’s the real maestro. He also did GRASS. That’s where I first met him. I narrated GRASS for him. I saw Grass before I did the narration and it was really good. I already knew it was good.
Tea Time We took a moment to have some tea. Woody to showed me various posters and postcards he had, mostly of a antiwar nature. This was just before the November 2nd and the outcome of the presidential election was a hot topic. The discussion moved to 911, weapons of mass destruction, no war for oil, the medium of film and its potential to influence opinion, and politics.
J: Before I saw the film I was wondering “is this the synthesis of the actor and the activist?” But you’re not so much an actor in this, you pretty much stay in the background of this film, your presence isn’t that big a part of it.
W: No, It’s really more about “Jedi’s Journey,” which it should be.
J: Jedi, the young man?
W: Yeah, Steve. That was the thing early on. I never wanted it to be about me, you know what I mean? It’s about the message. But the message has to come through the person going through the evolution. And there’s no one better than “Jedi,” man, because he’s electrifying to watch. His shift is just great to see.
W: A couple of years maybe. We want to be the conduit for all the different cool people who are making the cool soap or are making good makeup products, or are making good cleansers. Most cleansers are 1000 times more toxic than anything they could be cleaning... It has evolved quite a lot. It started right after the bike ride.
J: So the creation of this film and the bike ride happened before it, or did they evolve together?
W: I’d been working on the idea of it for a long time. I still haven’t gotten it totally going... my thought is that there would be different groups... like this would be an ideal community right here. You could have these little soul groups, like “soul mates,” call them. It would be nice for people to be able to come together and focus on what they are doing in the community. Enough people come together, even from all kinds of different groups, as a way to bring all the groups together, bring all the people together, on one or two very specific causes. To be able to focus the whole community, that would be very cool.
J: I liked a phrase on the Voice Yourself site: Create form through Unity. You have this vision, you have a unified field of what we all need, and you create it with your intention.
J: Yes yoga, karma yoga.
Compassionate Activism W: I want to also support a place like this, Living Paradise. You know, Heaven is here now. I love that philosophy. To have all this cool stuff, you know they’re going to have a yoga space, food, and clothes That’s a great thing. One stop shopping for people who care. But you know, our work from here is all about education and trying to be the conduit between groups and people in different areas. I think that our main thing, our main vote, is with our dollar.
J: One other message that I think is really strong in your film, is not just about the use of boycott, but also about supporting the alternatives that exist and allowing those to become even stronger, like all these organic farms, showing these alternatives that exist to people who may not be aware of them.
W: Yeah, well, I think the co-ops are the places to come around. There’s got to be a physical center for everybody to come together. That’s why Living Paradise is so cool; it’s perfect for all that. It brings all these progressive people into the same space. Community empowerment. To be able to go and shop and feel good about where you are putting your money, it’s like a double buzz because you are giving your money to something good and you are also getting something that’s going to look good on you. Buying inorganic clothing, which, think about the pesticides... just thinking about the long-term ramifications of everything. That’s why this is such a visionary place. Its very much like this place I was dreaming of that I was going to call “SOL” (Simply Organic Living). I haven’t given up on that.
J: Do you think your environmental consciousness came out of your yoga?
W: Hmmm, well they both come out of my spirit, Yoga and Environmental Consciousness. I mean I am very much a physical being in many ways, but I also feel I am a spiritual being. I know I have an awareness of the ecological inevitabilities, they way things are going down right now. I think in some ways the toilet has already been flushed....
I just think that it’s time that we all get unified. So often I have felt the machine is so big, the Beast is so big. And you feel like you are just one little voice. And really in a sense that’s true. But as soon as you get unified with a bunch of voices, then suddenly you’ve got a choir. Which is a powerful thing, you know, unified.
Because you start to unify the people who are already progressively minded. Which I was saying earlier, the Cultural Creatives, 26% of the adult population, my God! I’d just like to see everybody get together. I’ll try to be involved and help in anyway that I can and be a part of it. I just encourage you to join me if you at all are up to it.
*The Psychedelic '60s exhibit, University of Virginia / Charlottesville, 1998 To find out more about Living Paradise, go to www.livingparadise.org The “Go Further” available locally for rent or purchase at Scarecrow Video, Seattle