(2012) Documentary (CLJ) Joseph Garner, Gina Keatley, Fran McGee, Kristos Andrews, 357 Magnumm, Craig Newmark. Directed by Joseph Garner
For better or for worse, our lives have become dominated by the Internet, most prevalently in young people; say under 30 for now, although those on the north side of 30 are also plenty engaged by social networking, online auctions, web surfing and of course porn perusing. Much of our purchasing is done through websites rather than through traditional brick and mortar retail stores and sevices.
One of the more useful websites that has emerged from the dot com explosion is Craigslist. It has become the equivalent of the village marketplace. Not only are goods exchanged, but services as well. People meet on Craigslist and develop meaningful relationships. It’s like a classified ad section, bulletin board and social networking site all in one. There are many people who spend a good part of their days scanning the simply designed pages of Craigslist looking for things to do, places to go, apartments to rent, people to meet and well, just about everything.
Joseph Garner, a young 20-something filmmaker from Los Angeles noticed just how important Craigslist had become in our lives. With that in mind, he decided to film an experiment. He would leave his home with no money, a backpack full of clothes, no job, no transportation and only a laptop and a cell phone with a new number that he didn’t give to his friends or family, as well as a new e-mail account that he also didn’t give to friends or family. Thus armed, he set out.
For 30 days in December 2008, he meant to live off of whatever he could find on Craigslist. He’d exchange work and volunteering in exchange for food, transportation and shelter. He would travel wherever he could find rides to. In essence, he’d be living off the charity of others. When times are hard, often generosity shrivels up as people go into self-survival mode. In that kind of environment, can a young white man possibly find kindness?
Well, yes. I’ve always believed that people are inherently good and will help someone in need when they can. In Garner’s case, he was experiencing it directly and there are times that he is genuinely moved by it. While critics have brought up with some legitimacy that the presence of a cameraman might have urged some to be more generous than they might have been otherwise, a lot of kindnesses are volunteered over the phone with people unaware that they are going to be part of a documentary at the time.
Garner travels from L.A. to Seattle, from Seattle to Chicago, Chicago to New York, New York to Tallahassee, Tallahassee to New Orleans, New Orleans to Houston (with a stop in Juarez, Mexico) and Houston to San Francisco to meet Craigslist founder Craig Newmark who has long espoused the principal that people are generally kind and willing to help out their fellow man, which has come a long way from a mailing list for Bay Area computer professionals with events, seminars, and job opportunities.
Garner is a sweet-natured young man with a naive veneer that puts one at ease; certainly his attitude promoted kindness. One wonders though if he had been a young African-American male with a rapper vocabulary if he would have had the same success. Maybe Spike Lee could act as producer for a young filmmaker from the African-American community to try the same experiment (comedian Zach Galifianakis was a producer for Craigslist Joe).
There are some moments that will get to you; one that I’ll remember vividly for a long time to come is an encounter in New York with a former actress who appeared in such films as Home Alone 2 and now lives as a hoarder with emotional and possibly mental issues. She offered Garner a place to stay and he helped organize her apartment so that she could move around it more easily. She hadn’t requested that he do it but the act so moved her that she broke down and opened up about her fears and her life to Garner; it was obvious he was moved as well.
Near the end of the film, when Garner returns home from the experience much thinner, wiser and a little humbled by his experience, he tried to tell his mother what he learned and chokes up when he talks about how he found generosity of spirit still alive in this country. I found myself getting misty as well.
It is an election year and the vitriol is flowing like it is coming from Niagra Falls. As the Democrats rant against the Republicans, the Republicans rage against the Democrats and the independents remonstrate against everybody, it’s easy to believe that the milk of human kindness is in short supply. Craigslist Joe on the surface is not an important film; it’s a tale of a single journey among many and the lives that it touched. It would be a mistake to underestimate it though; to my way of thinking, it is very important to remember that people are not always douchebags and that we are still capable of making the world a better place – one act of random kindness at a time.
REASONS TO GO: Uplifting and inspirational in places. Garner is an engaging personality.
REASONS TO STAY: Presence of cameraman probably skewed the humanity quotient more than a little.
FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words, some drinking and smoking and some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the second documentary film in which Craigslist played a significant part; the first was 24 Hours on Craigslist (2005).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/20/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 25% positive reviews (officially no score as there aren’t enough reviews in on the film yet). Metacritic: 45/100. The reviews are not good.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Into the Wild
ROAD TRIP LOVERS: Joe’s travels take him from L.A to Seattle to Chicago to New York to New Orleans to Houston and back to L.A, essentially touching on nearly every region in the country.
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT: The Dry Land