elephant interviews independent filmmaker, Allie Bombach, director of 23 Feet. Allie passes on beyond-her-years-wisdom of living simply, dirtbagging, finding your passion and the importance of a good spork.
Interview by Nicole Duncan.
Today was a good day. I was lucky enough to snag some time with the young and vibrant filmmaker, Allie Bombach, director of 23 Feet.
Warmed by meaningful conversation and springtime sunshine in the backyard of Hotelephant, Allie passed on beyond-her-years-wisdom of living simply, dirtbagging, finding your passion and the importance of a good spork.
23 Feet is a film about a community of people who make the conscious choice to live simply—to do what they love in the great outdoors.
Three women set out across the West in their 23-foot, 1970 Airstream to search for the stories of people who have turned their backs on the creature comforts of society to live in school buses, vans, and other small spaces. From an inspiring campfire chat with legendary Yosemite climber Ron Kauk, to hearing the powerful story of a woman who changed her whole life for surfing, 23 Feet gives an intimate look at the ups and downs of dedicating your life to your outdoor passion.
Elephant: Does new media make it easier to be an independent filmmaker? Especially as a female filmmaker?
Aillie: Honestly, I don’t want to ever be a “female filmmaker.” I am a filmmaker. And then I’m a female. I don’t think being a man or woman has anything to do with it, and even if it does…I’m not going to admit it. I’m proud to be a female but it has nothing to with being a filmmaker—I just want to tell stories.
Elephant: And as far as the influence of new media on your success?
Allie: 23 Feet wouldn’t be what it is today without Vimeo, Twitter and our website, 23feet.org, and especially Facebook. We promoted the project before we got started, even before our first interview. The people who followed 23 Feet in the beginning are now our hosts! It’s so fun to meet and hug everyone as we arrive in each new town. And as a filmmaker, it’s amazing to connect with people before putting your stuff on screen. Lisa Montierth blogged the whole 23 Feet experience and I think it helped people connect with the production side of things. Since the story is about community, getting the community involved was really important.
Elephant: Last night at the pre-screening party was the first time you saw peoples’ reaction to your work. Do you feel like the film is done, or will you edit anything?
Allie: I’ll make some quick edits today. Probably just some color and graphic improvements, no content changes.
Elephant: Why was the film only 30 minutes long? I was left wanting more from your amazing characters!
Allie: As a new filmmaker, feature-length films are harder to get accepted in film festivals. Shorter films are more accessible.
Elephant: How did you decide to do this project? And how did you come up with the idea of a traveling outdoor theater?
Allie: I bought the Airstream here in Boulder, and I was originally hauling it with a F350 diesel truck running on vegetable oil. But the truck blew up. So I was stuck in Boulder for two months, dirtbagging and couch surfing. As I shared my story, I was surprised by the amount of people who connected with dirtbagging. It began to feel like everyone I met had a story about living on the road. So much so, that I wanted to make a film about it.
Also, I am obsessed with outdoor theaters. So I created a way to show films in the beautiful landscapes that inspire us to do the things we do.
Elephant: Driving around pulling a huge Airstream isn’t the most eco-friendly choice of transportation. What did you do to offset your footprint?
Allie: It was extremely important to me that we didn’t drive anywhere once we arrived at each location. I was a stickler about riding our bikes everywhere. No excuses.
Also, our current truck is temporary. I’m excited to purchase another diesel truck within the year, and to convert it to run on used vegetable oil.
Elephant: How as this experience changed your opinion on what it means to live simply?
Allie: Initially, it was just about shedding material objects. But living simply eventually transformed into finding enjoyment in life’s simple pleasures. Things like making myself a nice cup of coffee, or eliminating appliances felt gratifying. Now, I seek out the excitement of simple pleasures.
Elephant: One has so few possessions when living lightly. What’s an item you learned that you couldn’t live without?
Allie: My toothbrush.
Elephant: Was there anything you were you surprised to discover that you didn’t miss?
Allie: I didn’t miss showering.
Elephant: How were you personally inspired by the characters in your film?
Allie: The people that I interviewed had a huge impact on my life. People like Katie Lambert, who lived outside Yosemite National Park for almost six years, inspired me. When people first see this lifestyle they’re usually intimidated by the uncertainty—life of the unknown can be scary. But once you commit to this way of living, everything just makes so much sense. Take Katie, for example. We first came to her asking too many why’s and how’s and she knew every answer right away. To her, there was no questioning of the lifestyle. She taught me how to be certain and to trust in this way of life.
Elephant: Who are your main sponsors? And what were your obstacles in getting funded?
Allie: Osprey Packs is our main sponsor, and they’ve been on board from day one. ALite Designs is our second manufacturing sponsor.
One obstacle we faced in trying to get sponsored was that 23 Feet is not a formula film. It was hard for potential sponsors to conceptualize our project because we weren’t setting out on an epic expedition. Instead, we were trying to capture overwhelming universal themes. Luckily, the result turned out better than expected!
Elephant: How did you stay centered and calm when things didn’t go as planned?
Allie: I concentrated on realizing that nothing was bad. Everything was a story. The truck breaking down twice was part of the story. I took everything in as an experience, versus judging events as good or bad.
A nice cup of coffee also helped. And daily ice cream.
Elephant: What advice do you have for someone aspiring to become a dirtbagger? How would you encourage someone who wants to do it but may be too afraid?
Allie: People are a lot nicer than you think. And living on the road is not that scary. My advice is to stop talking about how “one day you want live out of your car, or live on the road.” Just do it, the sooner the better.
Oh, and you’ll want to live with very few objects, so make them count. Don’t use a dinky plastic fork. Get yourself the nicest spork you can find, and treasure it. Nothing should be just “good enough.” Everything should be the best. It’s the same thing with the people in your life—make everything and everyone worth it, and surround yourself with the best of everything.
Elephant: If you could sum up the most important message you hope your audience will take away from the film, what would it be?
Allie: Live consciously. Not just for environment though. Make conscious decisions about what you want to do with your life.
Do what you love and the rest will come. Find something you are passionate about and everything else will fall in to place.
Ele: What’s next?
Allie: My partner, Sarah Menzies, and I are hoping to take our passion for story telling to social and environmental causes, and feature people making real change. With 23 Feet we weren’t glorifying simple living or living in cars—it was a conversation. It was funny, hard, sad and wonderful and we want to continue that inspiration throughout all of our future projects.
Nicole spends her free time in the outdoors via kayak, ski, bike, trail, rope, rock, water and mountain. Although a writer and editor by trade, she ventured out as a sea kayak guide in Alaska, and most recently ski-bummed in Telluride, CO. When she’s not plotting her next big adventure you’ll find her with a Colorado microbrew in hand, a good read or with friends. Nicole has zero tolerance for to-go cups, pickles and complainers, and she challenges you with the question:
“How intensely do you wish to exist?”