“Documentaries note quirky side to life”
Preview Magazine, September 12, 2002
by Charlie Hand
Two documentaries that will be screened at the 2002 Temecula Valley International Film & Music Festival offer living proof that real life is more bizarre than any fiction. Doug Hawes-Davis went looking for America and Ilan Saragosti went looking for a mirror. Both ended up in the theater of the absurd. Each came away with a fascinating story.
Hawes-Davis set out to document the growing segment of the recreational vehicle traveling culture that hops not to every national park, battlefield or campground, but from Wal-Mart parking lot to Wal-Mart parking lot.
Believe it. These well-to-do retirees haul their huge and hugely expensive rigs all over the country to spend a night, or even two or three days, parked on the asphalt outside a Wal-Mart store.
Meanwhile, in “A Match Made in Seven,” Saragosti followed the fortunes of a number of young Vancouver Jews who took a local rabbi up on his offer to participate in speed dating. The rabbi wants them to marry within the faith. The twentysomethings want to find mates and if there is a way to do that within their culture, so much the better.
In speed dating, seven young men and seven young women play a variation of musical chairs in which everyone changes partners every seven minutes until every man has talked with every woman and vice versa. At evening’s end, prospective daters submit the names of anyone they found interesting enough to spend more time with. When a woman and a man express an interest in each other, the man is given the woman’s telephone number and is expected to set up a date.
One of the most fascinating elements of Hawes-Davis’ This is Nowhere is the utter lack of recognition among the RVers that there may be something odd about a general merchandise store as a travel destination.
Wal-Mart does nothing to discourage the trend, of course. The store even sells a half-price version of the Rand McNally road atlas that lists all of the Wal-Mart stores in the nation.
After listening to some of the travelers, it is easy to see why the store would do such a thing. They talk about spending from $100 to $1,000 in a store where they are sojourning.
Inside, Hawes-Davis’ camera shows a Wal-Mart store stocked with RV supplies and replacement parts. Of course, a number of the travelers speak about visiting more traditional sites, but somehow they find their way to Wal-Mart at day’s end. Some said they are content Wal-Mart hopping.
“It’s clear the phenomenon is a reflection of changes in American culture,” said Hawes-Davis in a news release about the film. “The travelers we interviewed are not out of the ordinary. They are representative Americans who share a common bond of loving to travel in RVs and loving Wal-Mart.”
The Jews Saragosti found in Vancouver, on the other hand, are somewhat out of the ordinary. They find themselves in a limited culture where their opportunities for romance are stunted because they have a dwindling pool for potential mates.
As for speed dating, well, none of the 14 people who participated in the first Vancouver program found a prospective mate. In fact, only a couple of dates resulted and none showed promise. One of the participants ended up in a relationship, but it was with a woman he met outside speed dating.
Saragosti said it appears that relationship is the only one that is flourishing. Almost a year after it started, the couple is making plans for a wedding, he said.
Saragosti, who is Jewish and in a long-term relationship with a woman who is not, said he is undaunted by the lack of results from speed dating.
“There is something to be said for putting yourself out there,” he said.
One of the women, who is just short of earning a doctorate, told Saragosti that, when she has her degree, she is moving to Israel.
In the documentary, she is seen declaring her desire to live within her culture, whatever it takes, including leaving Vancouver. Another participant who was born in Israel indicated she would stay, despite the outcome with speed dating.
In the end, both movies have something documentaries are supposed to lack—entertainment value.
“The reason you don’t see documentaries in theaters is that they are supposed to be dull,” Saragosti said. “People have the misconception that documentary has to be educational and dull. But you have to be entertaining.”
In both films, viewers get the opportunity to play voyeur, to take the position of being able to watch others bare their personal lives while not having to reveal themselves.