87 minutes, 2002, DVCAM

“DVD documents the lives of RVers who ‘camp’ in Wal-Mart parking lots.”
By Chuck Woodbury

I got very excited when I heard about this film THIS IS NOWHERE, about RVers who “camp” in Wal-Mart parking lots. I became skeptical, however, when I learned that the producer/director had virtually no knowledge of RVs and RVing before making the film. I thought the might make fun of his subjects. After viewing the film, now available on DVD, I realized he didn’t.

Each year tens of thousands of travelers steer their RVs into Wal-Mart parking lots to “camp” for a night or two. Not because they have to. Rather, because they want to. Just as they seek out national parks and historic sites, RV travelers have marked Wal-Mart stores as travel destinations. “This is Nowhere” documents RV travelers’ interactions with landscape, technology, communities, and each other.  By some estimates, several million Americans travel full-time in motor homes, trailers and other recreational vehicles. Millions more spend significant portions of each year wandering America. Taking advantage of the modern American landscape, tens of thousands of vacationers and full-time travelers steer their RVs into Wal-Mart parking lots each year to “camp” for a night or two.

Filmmaker Doug Hawes-Davis and co-director John Lilburn set out to document this emerging social phenomenon with the idea that this story was bigger than a few wayward tourists with curious tastes in camping spots. “The inherent contradiction of ‘camping’ in a box-store parking lot seemed like the perfect starting place for exploring cultural attitudes towards nature, community, and sense of place,” said Hawes-Davis. “After the very first night of interviews we realized that we could tie together many related issues in the same film. Themes of urban sprawl, tourism, and consumerism are accessed by examining RV camping in Wal-Mart parking lots.”

Their interviews with the RVers which make up most of the film are fascinating, informative and even funny, and will likely delight most RVer viewers. Virtually all those interviewed are having the time of their lives. Some literally go from one Wal-Mart to another, using a Wal-Mart atlas to plot their course. Once at the store, they often interact with other RVers who park nearby. They all love Wal-Mart and as a way of showing their support most of the RVers shop at the stores where they stay.

The filmmakers interviewed their subjects in Wal-Mart parking lots, mostly in their RVs, and in doing so, provide a glimpse at not only the lives of these RVers, but their living spaces as well. One woman gleefully explains how well she and her husband have gotten along in their small trailer on their current trip. “I take tranquilizers in the evening and he drinks beer,” she says, laughing. Another RVer gives a tour of his motorhome, proudly pointing out all the amenities.

The interviews with the RVers are delightful, and their reasons for camping at Wal-Mart varied. As much as this is a documentary about “camping” at Wal-Mart it’s also about full-time RVers and their lifestyle. As these nomads move about, one state rolls into another into another. “Where are we tonight?” one woman asks her husband. RVer James Hruska explains why he gave up his 3,000 square foot home to move into a motorhome and become a wanderer. “I have everything I need,” he says.
I enjoyed this documentary, and was reminded again of why RVers choose to travel full time and how much most of them enjoy it. And, although I am knowledgeable about camping at Wal-Mart , the film revealed a lot to me about the practice that I was simply unaware of.