Dear Villagers of Troviscais,
(from the bio-region of São Luís, Odemira, Alentejo),
I am writing this letter from Choupana (»the valley of the shelter«), at the end of the long dirt road, after which I like to imagine that there is only forest. I have been living and returning from many places, mostly cities, but filming has taken me into your company, and I dare to say that our encounter has changed the course of my life.
One hundred years ago an anarchist, bursting with love for the world and the happiness of all beings, sent us a call. It was a call for living differently, a call for a communal, autonomous, and anti-authoritarian life. In Vale de Santiago, not far from our village, António Gonçalves Correia initiated a commune and named it Comuna da Luz – the Commune of Light. The social experiment lasted only two years, but its place is still remembered as »the Mount of the Commune.« Lest you may doubt, his call is still reaching us.
Our anarchist was a complex being: a dreamer, an incorrigible idealist, a civil activist, a traveling salesman, a vegetarian known for freeing animals from their cages screaming »Liberty!«; a Tolstoyan naturalist, adept of free love, a radical pedagogue, an earth defender … He founded his own newspaper – A Questão Social – and wrote passionately for other newspapers. Often, his texts took the shape of letters addressed to a woman, to an anarchist, to a banker. He used to ride his bicycle throughout the region, and it was clear to everyone that the coming Revolution was his sweetheart.
Several women and children lived in the Commune of Light. There they grew vegetables, shared meals in a communal kitchen, made shoes, and, significantly, they lived not in seclusion but on good terms with the surrounding villagers. One woman is mentioned to have been the soul of the commune: a professor inspired by the pedagogy of Francisco Ferrer’s Modern School. I wonder about her thoughts, her political imaginary, her name, but all I am able to find is her care for books. She, as the others, remain historically anonymous. (Which books were you reading, dear unknown woman? What life did you lead after the short-lived commune? How did commoning transformed you and the collectivity?) I can only fabulate.
Stubbornly, I have started visiting and filming the commune, what is left of it, in search of auguries of a flourishing life. Those unfamiliar with its history may only see a tiny fenced private property. But as Mikhail Bakunin in a letter to Élisée Réclus wrote: »nothing in the world is ever lost.« Believe it or not, dear villagers, this was the spark that led me toward you: The dream of something. And thinking of them, communards and commoners, while thinking of you/us, entangled as we are in the remaking of the rural, have impelled me to write to you.