The great thing about independent movies is they can have anything and everything as their subject. For example, the movie that kicks off the Independent Lens series on PBS is entitled The Parking Lot Movie and it does just what it says - it concerns a parking lot in Charlottesville, Virginia. Director Meghan Eckman focuses her camera on a corner parking lot and lets the story play out in this strange but fascinating documentary.
This is not a story about a high level parking lot. This corner parking lot is a spot of level land behind some restaurants and bars where people can pay and park their cars. The insight into this world of the parking lot comes from interviews with Chris, the owner of the lot, and the various men who are employed as parking lot attendants.
Mostly these attendants are undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Virginia. Some come to work for a few months or maybe even a few years and then move on. Some stay a long time as the life of the parking lot attendant gets into their blood. Their comments about the job show pride in their work and reveal that they feel themselves to be a select group who are privileged to be "attendants."
To make their job more fun they paint messages on the "stop" bar that gives the cars entrance and exit. It may be a name on the bar or it might be a phrase. It might even indicate a philosophical view.
As the stories unfold about life at the parking lot, the audience begins to grasp a view of that world that has never before been seen. The men who work there have unique personalities yet there is a brotherhood that binds them together.
Eckman gives enough of a variety to the tales she selects to make the one hour documentary fascinating from start to finish. At the end she provides a follow up to where the main attendants are now. Some are musicians, some are librarians, some are in education, and some are still parking lot attendants. Obviously once you get it in your blood it isn't easy to get it out.
The Parking Lot Movie is the perfect kind of independent film. It is entertaining and somewhat educational. The main thing, however, is it gives insight into a subculture which many of us had never known or cared about in any way. After viewing it you will never look at the parking lot attendants in the same way you did in the past.
Independent Lens/The Parking Lot Movie airs Tuesday, October 19 at 10PM on PBS.