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Family etc in front of sponsor board

Love and Family Endure, Even in “A New Kind of Wilderness”

By Patty Consolazio

When you live in a cocoon, everything is safe and contained. The Payne family embraces that concept — choosing to live a life on a farm in the Norwegian wilderness, surrounded by nature’s gifts and solely reliant on one another and the fruits of their labors to survive. The food, homegrown. The children, homeschooled. Parents Maria and Nik serve as loving teachers who create lessons from the organic experiences of the day. 

The children ask questions like, “What other planets would be suitable to live on?”; the parents listen and respond thoughtfully. And the children teach each other, the older ones reminding the younger ones how to do things (like read) and the reasons not to do other things (like chip the bark off a tree), and how to be good stewards of Earth. 

When one of their own is taken from the cocoon, everything changes for the Payne family. The love is still there, for sure. But there’s a hole, and a palpable sadness. And with that loss comes A New Kind of Wilderness. Premiering on January 19 at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, this film is a story of strength, love, loss, and adaptation in the face of changes we don’t choose for ourselves.

The Payne family attended the premiere and participated in a post-premiere Q&A, along with the film’s director Silje Evensmo Jacobsen. “Time on Earth is so short. They [the Paynes] really just wanted to spend the time together, being together when the children are small, and being close to nature,” says Jacobsen, speaking about one of the lessons she gained from the family. “You don’t have to live off the grid, but just make a conscious choice in how to live.”

And when the family needs to change, they do so. It’s not easy. Considerations like enrolling in traditional schooling and even moving from the beloved family farm fill the air with sadness, worry, and candid discussions filled with the tough kinds of questions kids ask. As the children grow and their life begins to include new concepts and realities, the important thing — the focal point — remains the family unit. 

Change will come, but the Payne family will endure. And even laugh. And always love. A lesson for all of us.

A New Kind of Wilderness is part of the 2024 Sundance World Cinema Documentary Competition.