Sydney Film Festival – How to Start Your Own Country review

How to Start Your Own Country – Directed by Jody Shapiro. By Simon Miraudo.

How to Start Your Own Country makes its Australian debut at the Sydney Film Festival on Thursday June 9. It also screens Saturday June 11.

No man is an island, but some men are nations, as evidenced in Jody Shapiro’s cheeky documentary How to Start Your Own Country. Shapiro interviews the right royal renegades who have splintered away from society to form their very own state. There’s Kevin Baugh’s Republic of Molossia, just outside of Nevada (where his wife ran off to, and is thus considered enemy territory). It has a population of six (including himself, and his three dogs) and its very own flag, which Baugh raises every day, “unless it’s snowing, or I don’t feel like putting it up”. Still in the States, we meet Dean Kamen, inventor of The Segway and president of Dumpling Island (yes, please ship all Segways to Dumpling Island). There is the landless New Free State of Caroline, whose state-of-mind residents are almost exclusively modern artists (if they all lived together in an actual physical location, it would be hellish). In Italy, we visit the Principality of Seborga, which reminded me of 30 Rock’s Svenborgia, a country that “only rich people know about”. Finally we visit the most regal of the bunch: H.R.H. Prince Leonard and H.R.H. Princess Shirley of the Hutt River Province, formerly of Western Australia. As Leonard reminds us of his rather large estate, it’s at least the “second biggest country on the continent of Australia”.

Shapiro’s touch is light, but he raises interesting questions about what it means to belong to a country, and whether or not that is something the United Nations, with all their “rules”, could ever really define. The UN is depicted as subscribers to the ol’ pornography defence: ‘I know it when I see it’. Of course, with a touch this light and so many eccentric characters to showcase, the subject’s natural digression into the Israel/Palestine conflict is a brief one. Unfortunate, but any further dissection probably would have seemed glib considering the hilarious footage that had preceded it, including a New Free State of Caroline parade on the beach, seemingly inspired by the music videos of Lady Gaga.

The creepiest sequence of the film takes us into The Seasteading Institute, where young – no, really young – researchers are figuring out how to build cities, and eventually nations, in the ocean. Funded by Facebook investor Peter Thiel, and run by a metal-mouthed Executive Director, the Seasteading Institute offers a terrifying glimpse into a Waterworld-esque society. They see it as a serene vision of the future. It feels a little Alien3-prison-planet, personally. But one man’s hellscape is another man’s home.

3.5/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

How to Start Your Own Country makes its Australian debut at the Sydney Film Festival on Thursday June 9. It also screens Saturday June 11. Get more details here. (Director Jody Shapiro is also giving a free lecture on Friday June 10.)

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