SLAB CITY: Somewhere in the Californian part of the Sonoran desert, in between various military bases, lies Slab City – a squatter community.
Bianca-Olivia Nita
Bianca is a freelance journalist and documentary critic. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: July 2, 2017

During winter time many people bring their trailers in Slab City, most of them co-called “snowbirds” in search of freedom and a cheap and warm place to spend the cold season. But in summer, when the temperatures reaches merciless levels, these people move to cooler places. A core community of inhabitants is left behind. For the permanent residents of Slab City, freedom is a byproduct of poverty and of not fitting in anywhere else. This film is a portrait of their struggle to maintain a sense of connection in a desolate place.

Generally, there is something romantic about the idea of living off the grid. But there is nothing romantic about living in Slab City. In fact the place is hardly a city, and more a community of improvised houses and caravans – and other than some picturesque views of the desert, Slab City doesn’t have much to offer.

«For the permanent residents of Slab City, freedom is a by-product of poverty and of not fitting in anywhere else.»

Standout characters. People depend on each other here, and scarcity is one of the things that make simple routines important and small gestures of kindness significant. One routine that brings people together is the 7 AM coffee that Rob Lane serves every day at his café. The coffee is unsophisticatedly served; just simple coffee made on a stove and poured into mugs, plastic bottles and improvised glasses. But it is “the best coffee in the neighbourhood” and it makes everyone gather at Rob’s improvised internet café to socialize and make use of the wireless network. These are the misfits among misfits, and they are also very human, vulnerable and in many ways relatable.

The film is centred on Rob Lane and his role in the community. Years past, he exchanged his truck for his current residence in Slab City. There is also the story of Donita, a middle-aged woman who found peace in Slab City after getting out of jail, and who likes to dance on Saturday nights. There is Zack, the troubled young man who loves dogs and who found guidance in Rob, but struggles to keep out of trouble. And there are others like them – and as you get to know their stories, they all feel strangely dear and familiar.

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