Film – Orange Sunshine

Orange Sunshine

Steve Taylor-Bryant watches a documentary from this year’s London Film Festival Journey section from William A. Kirkley...

LSD for World Peace. This was the idea that lay at the heart of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a church created in the 1960s by a group of Californian surfer friends. Determined to change the world for the better, helped by the fearlessness of youth and the consumption of psychedelics, they began a local business that soon grew into an international organisation – becoming for a time the world’s largest distributors of hash and LSD. This rousing documentary follows the incredible story of the church, from their burgeoning friendship and early days of pure hedonism, through trips to South America and Afghanistan, to years on the run and a cat-and-mouse game with the authorities. Blending seductive, sun-kissed Super-8 recreations of the 1960s Californian surfing community with interviews featuring the founding members and law enforcement agents, Orange Sunshine is a fascinating insight into a little-known moment in American history.

What a documentary! I honestly knew nothing of the story when I sat to watch Orange Sunshine, I just wanted to watch a good documentary from the Journey section of LFF and I liked the film’s poster. Journey is the important word here, they went on one and I certainly just have. Don’t take my enthusiasm for this documentary as my okay to do drugs; it’s not but, my word, what a fascinating group of people the Brotherhood of Eternal Love were. This was more than a bunch of hippies, more than a small cult or church, which is all I did know of the name before watching Orange Sunshine, this was a group of likeminded men and women who ran possibly the biggest drug business the world has ever seen. Starting small and experimenting with hash and LSD The Brotherhood became, to take a quote from the film, ‘the Coca Cola of LSD’. They had labs built to make the drug, they went to Afghanistan and brought in marijuana in such large sums my brain hurts doing the maths, and they were as infamous as they were famous. At their peak they made and sold over 120million doses of LSD. Eventually, most were caught and served some kind of jail time but Orange Sunshine shows much than just a group of drug dealers, it shows a family, a community that believed in their goal which was to turn on the world. Such luminaries as Steve Jobs, The Grateful Dead and many more took their product, and Timothy Leary joined their ranch just before trying to run for Governor of California against Ronald Reagan. When Leary was jailed for 30 years for possessing $10 of joints, The Brotherhood broke him out of jail!

The benefits of their chosen lifestyles, whilst hippyish to some, made me envy them. They had true love for their friends and family and an inner peace and confidence I don’t think I have ever experienced, and they did change the world. It just seems the world wasn’t quite ready for the change that would come and the authorities rightly chased them down and they were punished. All these years later there are no recriminations amongst them, no one blames another for the trouble they got in, and money is not spoken of despite the millions of dollars that must have passed through their hands at the peak of business.

The story is very cinematic, there must be a television or film executive somewhere trying to get this made in a dramatic way for, as true as the story is, it is so unbelievable it lends itself to Hollywood. In the meantime we have this documentary and if you, like me, didn’t know about this little slice of American culture you have to watch it.



Image - BFI.