Steven Lake: Drying for Freedom

Steven Lake made a film about clothes lines. In parts of America it’s illegal to hang your washing outside, and Steven Lake wanted to find out why. His documentary Drying for Freedom is the story of his journey from Mississippi to Mumbai in answer of this question.

We caught up with him to quiz him about the film – including how he managed to get so interested in clotheslines…

You made a film about clothes lines. Tell us why we need to watch it.

People should watch it as an alternative to the usual environmental documentary. By focusing on something that makes an apparently tiny impact on the environment (the tumble dryer), the film reveals how even one appliance plays an important role in the destruction of our planet.

On the other hand, the film presents the alternative to the tumble dryer (the clothesline) and finds out why the clothesline has been banned in millions of homes across the US in favour of the energy-hungry dryer. Drying for Freedom tells the story of how small changes can make all the difference in the battle against climate change.

How did you get so interested in the way we dry our clothes?

It started with the laundry Wikipedia page, as most things do (start with Wikipedia I mean, not necessarily the laundry page). One short sentence which stated that clotheslines are banned in Home Owners Associations (HOAs) in the US just fascinated me. To begin with I was interested from a freedom standpoint and started looking into these HOA’s and the restrictions they placed on home owners.

I had always thought of the USA as a country that fought for it’s freedoms, but here are people who own their own properties willingly and yet sometimes unwillingly restrict themselves in the strangest ways – including the colour of flowers they can put on their front lawn. I went over there to investigate the banning of the clothesline, but the project quickly evolved into an environmental documentary looking at the rise of the dryer, the death of the clothesline and the selling of white goods appliances to developing nations.

Do you know if there’s been any changes in the communities you filmed in (or others in America) since the films release?

I doubt it. Most of the communities we went to were more than happy to keep the clothesline out of their neighbourhood. One woman who stars in the film, Mary Lou Sayer, had fought her community on the ban and even got national coverage in the New York Times about the clothesline bans. In the end, though, she decided it was easier to just comply and not have your neighbours hate you. The best results have been seen in states that have passed a state-wide ‘Right To Dry‘ law, which makes it illegal to ban people from restricting clothesline usage.

Of course, the best way to bring about real change isn’t going to be through regulation – it has to come from a change of attitude. It doesn’t even have to be the clothesline that comes back into use, as long as people start to understand the burden their household appliances – and other lifestyle choices – are putting on the planet. We as individuals need to start to draw a line between necessity and luxury. I don’t mean to sound ‘preachy’, but this is our reality.

Funniest moment while filming…. (with a subject like this, we won’t believe you if you say there weren’t any)

At one point I was being shown around a community association in a realtor’s car, and we started being ‘tailed’ by another car. It was a bit like a high speed police chase, except we were going 4 mph driving around a cul-de-sac. The car followed us out of the neighbourhood and followed us for another 10 minutes. I watched the footage back of the interview and I kept seeing the car in any shot of the rear view mirror. Every time we stopped it would stop behind us and wait, then as we carried on it would follow on. People can be very protective over their neighbourhood!

Is Drying for Freedom the best project you’ve ever worked on? – If yes tell us why, if not tell us your favourite.

Drying for Freedom was actually the first project I ever worked on, and since it only came out last year that makes it the only project – so far! I started it straight out of university, never expecting it to turn into a real feature length film. Yet somehow it did. I got to drive around the United States, I went to a baseball game with the governor of Illinois in Chicago, I visited Ronald Regan’s pacific Palisades home in LA, I went to a clothesline rally in the New York, and got to investigate a clothesline related murder in Mississippi. It was the greatest adventure I’ve ever been on. Period.

Sum up the essence of Drying for Freedom in one word (you can have two, but only if they’re really good ones):

Simplify. Or, ‘start small’.

What are you working on now?

It’s top secret. Well, kind of. A more valid reason is that I can’t say is because I’m not too sure myself. I can say that it’s a co-production between the UK and the US  and that it’s about gender justice and the internet. Which is starting to excite me even more than clotheslines.

If you weren’t a film-maker, what would you be?

Tough question. When I was a kid I wanted to be in an American S.W.A.T team. Puppeteer is also appealing.

To stream or buy a digital copy of Drying for Freedom click here. The film should be available for UK readers to purchase in about a month.


Steven Lake

Steven Lake is a documentary film maker based in Bristol, UK.



  • “Of course, the best way to bring about real change isn’t going to be through regulation – it has to come from a change of attitude. It doesn’t even have to be the clothesline that comes back into use, as long as people start to understand the burden their household appliances – and other lifestyle choices – are putting on the planet.”

    I am so happy to hear about this project. I am a major laundry line fan…see my website for details. There is something very different that happens when you hang your clothes on a line outside…you see things you don’t see in basements…and you begin to care about those things.

    I will be sharing this widely. Do you have a screening schedule? Can I host a local screening here in the Berkshires of western Mass where we have lots of really good drying days all summer and fall? And where people have porches for short lines and racks?

    Congratulations Steven. And thanks for this post! xo Suzi

    • Hi Suzi, many thanks for your comment and for sharing the post so widely. We’re super glad you enjoyed reading the interview and are so excited about Steven’s film – we’ll definitely pass on your praise! To arrange a screening you’ll need to fill out a form through the Drying for Freedom website – link to the form available here: Best of luck organising the screening and do check back soon as we’ve got lots more great interviews in the pipeline!

    • Steven Lake says:

      Hi Suzi.
      Thanks for your super kind words! Get in touch with me at…
      stevenwlake (at) gmail dot com

      We can have a chat about how you might be able to go about screening the film.

      Keep on line drying, and hang in there :)


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