Miami 2011: “How to Start Your Own Country”

Did you know the inventor of the Segway now leads his own country? And it’s in the Long Island Sound? This is one of the things to be learned from Jody Shapiro’s “How to Start Your Own Country,” an amusing and enlightening documentary about micronations, with particular focus on the future of frontier-breaking. Dean Kamen, the Segway guy, owns North Dumpling Island, which he calls the Kingdom of North Dumpling, and though technically, legally still part of New York State, it has officially seceded from the United States (with a non-aggression pact signed by President George H. Bush), has its own constitution (supposedly hundreds of years old) and is self-sufficient and completely carbon-neutral. It helps that Kamen is a billionaire. He also doesn’t rule over anyone else.

Shapiro jumps from one micronation to the next in the film, some more eccentrically run than others, while generally addressing the whole issue of the “country club” mentalities of the United Nations, the European Union, etc. Places like North Dumpling and the Principality of Sealand (a former British fort in the North Sea that was originally taken over by pirate radio broadcasters) are basically aligned with more familiar states like Palestine and Liechtenstein. Then there are the more eclectic, utopian concepts, such as the territory-less, location-variable New Free State of Caroline, which seems to blur the line between cult and state. It also best exemplifies the doc’s attention to the connection of state and state of mind.

This is not the first look at its topic, or even the first with its title. Googling the film’s name will likely bring you first to a book and a British TV series from a few years back. I don’t know how much Shapiro brings to the table that’s fresh, but as someone unfamiliar with micronations I was exposed to a lot of places I’d never heard about. In the end, though, I was more intrigued by what the film says about the concept and the reasons behind it more than specific examples. Is it really true that nation founding is primarily a male pursuit, and does the reason actually still relate to maternal and family concerns for women? “How to Start Your Own Country” doesn’t answer this concretely, but the question is enough.

One thing up for debate among the doc’s subjects is whether or not there are still frontiers worth settling, unclaimed places remaining for man to continue the notion of Manifest Destiny. One guy mentions Antarctica as the main alternative to attempting, typically with great difficulty, to establish a nation inside of another nation (a la North Dumpling and other showcased countries inside the U.S., Italy and Australia). Then there is the acknowledgment of potential for communities in space and on the oceans, the latter of which figures into an ambitious endeavor to develop “seasteads.” These floating nations would pretty much make “Waterworld” a reality.

Shapiro’s film should give idealists and iconoclasts ideas but maybe not true instruction, as its title implies. But I wonder if it might also provide inspiration to a certain political movement currently rising in the United States. Or to their critics. Might anyone see “How to Start Your Own Country” and suggest part of the American population go set up shop in the middle of the Atlantic or Pacific?


About Christopher Campbell
I am a blogger for Documentary Channel and, where I write the Doc Talk column. I prefer real stories to fake ones. I tweet here: @thefilmcynic

One Response to Miami 2011: “How to Start Your Own Country”

  1. Pingback: Doc News: Federal Judge Labels Documentary Filmmaking a Hobby; Freetown Christiania; YouTube « Nothing But the Doc

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