Family navigates ‘A New Kind of Wilderness’


A gentle loveliness lures you into the story and rhythm of Silje Evensmo Jacobsen’s documentary, “A New Kind of Wilderness,” presented by Circuit Arts at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury on Friday, June 14, at 7:30 pm.

The intimate film, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is a family’s moving and sometimes painful journey that has to shift from one kind of wilderness to another. 

In the opening scene, young siblings filled with curiosity explore and frolic in an idyllic Norway fir forest. Maria Grose Vatne appears, introducing herself as a mother of four, photographer, and nature lover: “I’m someone trying to make sense of it all through photos and stories.”

The story unfolds as an intimate, honest, and moving tale about family, love, community, and the importance of place under the veil of loss. 

Maria, who is Norwegian, and her British husband, Nik, live off the grid on a farm. They homeschool the kids, grow their food, care for the animals, and cause minimal harm to the environment. “Deciding not to be part of the rat race means less luxury, but it’s liberating. We govern our own lives,” Maria explains. 

Three minutes in, though, through just a few brief still shots, tragedy strikes. We see that she gets seriously ill and soon dies, leaving behind grieving children and a husband who is suddenly thrust into navigating this wilderness on his own.

We hear the children touchingly share, “I miss her smell,” and “I was scared that Daddy never would be happy again. I can see that he’s in a lot of pain. I need to take care of him.” The oldest daughter, who cannot handle her mother’s loss, separates from the family, leaving another hole in the home.

Unable to make ends meet, Nik is forced to sell the farm, much to the achingly conveyed dismay of the children immersed in the wilderness all their lives. 

After their move, the children must face their fears about going to school, and the social pressures of making friends. In a poignant scene, we see modern life intrude as well when the second oldest daughter comes home with an iPad that her teacher has instructed her to use as a socialization tool. Dismayed, Nik tells her to put it away, but she and her brothers uncharacteristically ignore his orders.

Additional tensions arise as the children adapt to this new modern wilderness. Likewise, Nik has to weigh his yearning to live back with his family support system in England against the children’s preference for their newly established life in Norway. 

Ultimately, Nik concludes, “Home is where we are together.” Shortly after, one of the children relates, “Mum will always be in the air around us and inside.” 

Although a tale about the vulnerability and resilience of this tight-knit, loving family, “A New Kind of Wilderness” simultaneously explores larger questions about the choice to live differently.

Minah Oh, director of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival at Circuit Arts, fell in love with the film. She chose it because, she says, “We are at this point in society living closer to Earth, especially on Martha’s Vineyard, where living more sustainably is romanticized. At the same time, I want to make sure that we as a society remember that going back to the basics is what we all should do, because we are obsessed with technology and consumption.”

She also notes, “Wilderness isn’t just about dirt and trees, but also about all of us navigating today’s modern-day society, which is one that we really shouldn’t be accustomed to, but that we are. Furthermore, it’s about realizing how every day is a struggle for someone, and that the ebbs and flows of life are both great and sometimes really difficult, yet know that we can figure it out together.”

“Everyone’s going to go into the film thinking it’s about homesteading and living off the grid. But really it’s just about how we interact with society, and life is that wilderness, no matter where or what you are.”

“A New Kind of Wilderness” on Friday, June 14, at 7:30 pm at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury. General-admission, pay-what-you-can tickets are available at