JIM LOUNSBURY | writer/director
As an outdoorsman, environmentalist and filmmaker, I have long wanted to make a film that captures the adventurous spirit of those who embrace conscious consumerism and sustainable living. As a father of two young boys, I make a point of 'unplugging' from modern life and throwing my sons into nature, often for 4 or 5 days at a time, hoping that they too form a love for the outdoors, and learn to value the environment as I do.
Both Jared and Jonny are long-time friends and creative collaborators, and when Jared told me about this 'little' online community he had started with Jonny, I was curious. "It's growing like crazy, mate" he said, telling me about how he was planning to live in his van for a while, and organise gatherings for the vanlife community.
A few months later, I checked the @vanlifediaries Instagram account, and at that time (only 9 months ago) it already had in excess of 130,000 followers. Now it is approaching 275,000 followers, and by Jared's own admission, they can't keep up with the emails, photos and stories that are flooding in from all over the world.
I decided to come along to a Vanlife gathering myself, to connect with the community, and I saw the power behind the whole Vanlife idea.
The first night I was there, a group of about 50 people gathered around the fire, and listened as Aunty Esther, a local Aboriginal elder, told stories about the area in North NSW, where we were camping. This was done as a partnership with Yarn Australia, a reconciliation program that helps to facilitate an understanding of cultural identity and Australia's shared history.
The whole event was alcohol free, and I watched as all 50 people, myself and my 9-year-old son included, listened with rapt attention about the trials and triumphs of living on the land. About coming to terms with sharing their land with settlers. About how happy she was to be able to share their stories.
These were people intoxicated with one another, and they talked long into the night.
After story time, a few musicians picked up their guitars and sang songs until about 9pm, after which Jonny rolled out his large, white van, and projected films on the side. This gathering, the audience were watching films by Toby Finlayson, who has been making films in Indigenous communities around Australia and the world, with a mission to give voice to disadvantaged people, in order to have much needed cultural and social dialogue.
The next morning, we all drove in convoy down to Bellbrook, the nearest town, where Aunty Esther and some of the local elders had prepared food for us to eat, and a kind farewell.
This is just one event of hundreds that have been run by the vanlife community over the past few years. This event hosted 25 odd vehicles (not everyone was in vans, some were in tents or slept in their cars) and 50 or so people. Other events have attracted as many as 50 or more vans in Australia, and even more in North America.
The community is comprised of an eclectic mix of people: Professionals who are taking a hiatus from their jobs in the city, Millennials who opt to live a more carefree life without the financial burdens of rent or mortgages, Environmentalists who are traveling school to school teaching children about conservation and sustainability, social and environmental entrepreneurs, and people who are just interested in sharing stories, music and connecting with others in a meaningful way.
There is a sensitivity and inclusiveness to the vanlife community. A valuing of the generosity of others, and willingness to listen: to each other, to the people along the way, to the environment.
This film, for me, is a chance to examine why the vanlife community has struck a chord with so many, and perhaps re-evaluate my own values. It is a chance to give the vanlife community another avenue to communicate and share stories that matter, and it is a chance to go on a journey of discovery with four friends who are going to be impacted by honesty and support that exists in a community they happened to help put on the map.
In the words of Jack Kerouac, "I want to work in revelations, not just spin silly tales for money. I want to fish as deep down as possible into my own subconscious in the belief that once that far down, everyone will understand because they are the same that far down."
Wherever this many people gather, there are resonant beliefs, philosophical truths and important new ideas, and this documentary is a journey to discover what those are.