Since 2006, someone called Kirsten Dirksen has been posting weekly videos on YouTube about ‘simple living, self-sufficiency, small (and tiny) homes, backyard gardens (and livestock), alternative transport, DIY, craftsmanship and philosophies of life’. But don’t let that put you off.
Basically, Dirksen makes short films about people’s quirky homes: ‘Tiny Parisian rooftop terrace transforms for work and leisure’, ‘Extreme transformer home in Hong Kong’, etc. Fear not: this not some shoestring Grand Designs. There is little or no enthusing, there are no vacuous summings-up, there is no false jeopardy. The videos vary in length: some of them last for less than ten minutes, others for close to an hour. Many are in Spanish (with subtitles). Occasionally, there are voiceovers, but more often there’s simply the mildly disinterested voice of the person showing Dirksen around their house. ‘And here’s the composting toilet.’
Dirksen, who looks like a stressed-out maths teacher, is often in shot, shown filming with her camera, which implies that there’s someone filming her — we occasionally glimpse a man who one assumes is her husband. There are also children, who never seem to age — and who, mercifully, don’t do cute stuff. They’re just kids.
If the mere thought of watching people in 3-D-printed solar houses in Seattle fills you with horror, or you are naturally disinclined towards those living in bioclimatic troglodyte homes in France, Dirksen’s home tours are probably not for you. But before dismissing her entirely you should watch her half-hour film about Dan Price’s underground home.
Everything about Mr Price and his Hobbit house should be an intense irritation: he plays the handpan, he illustrates his own quirky books and pamphlets, and he uses a composting toilet. And yet the film is so artfully artless, and Dirksen so simply generous in her depiction of Price’s strange life, that what might have been sheer tosh is in fact a portrait full of pathos.
If only YouTube had been around when Werner Herzog and the Maysles Brothers were getting going, we’d all have spent a lot less time in arthouse cinemas.