Film Review: The Meaning of Vanlife
The Meaning of Vanlife is a visually stunning documentary from writer-director Jim Lounsbury. It explores the ‘vanlife movement’ that is gaining momentum on social media around the world as more and more people choose to abandon traditional homes and careers for life on the road.
The film centres around the founders of Australian Instagram account @vanlifediaries, Jonny Dustow and Jared Campbell, as they head to the United States of America to run gatherings to connect fellow humans who call a campervan home. Lounsbury joined the pair on their travels, living in the lovingly named ‘Hunter S. Thompsvan’ for four months of filming.
Along their travels, the film crew meets hundreds of young and old individuals, couples, families and pets who share the mentality of escaping consumerism and capitalism of life. What shines through in every person Lounsbury and fellow producers Lynette Lounsbury and Dustin Clare interviewed, is an overwhelmingly warm feeling of love and community. The documentary provides a huge variety of perspectives on why people choose vanlife, how they make money on the road and how they deal with loneliness and separation from family and friends.
The film uses a mixture of handheld and steady camera shots, drone footage and GoPro imagery to highlight everything about nature that makes vanlife seem desirable. The colours are phenomenal and the film has the same look as the Instagram accounts that inspire people to pack up and drive away in a van. The locations they drive through are incredible, seemingly untouched, hidden gems of nature.
The documentary also shows, to an extent, the negative aspects of vanlife such as breakdowns, a lack of space, a lack of heating and cooling, and loneliness – however, on the most part the film falls into the same pattern of Instagram photographers who glaze over the downsides of their lifestyle. Overall, this does create a very feel-good film which is lovely to watch and particularly so for people who either engage in vanlife or are considering it. Perhaps, this lack of emphasis on the negatives is a reflection of the people’s resilience and mindset of the vanlife positives far outweighing anything bad… yet it also feels like an incomplete picture.
It is refreshing to see a film that highlights the power for good that social media has. This documentary is largely about the influence of Instagram and its capabilities in bringing more people together than ever before. Social media is such a huge part of society no matter how you live, and it is important to recognise its value in spite of its flaws. Lounsbury demonstrates the importance of it in this film by crediting people with their Instagram handle, rather than simply their name.
A disappointing aspect of the film is a lack of insight into Australian vanlife. The film gives the impression that seeing as @vanlifediaries is originally Australian based, vanlife must be well-established down under. I don’t think general Australian society has much awareness of people other than retirees choosing to live in campervans, particularly in comparison to the plethora of American vanlife social media pages. The Meaning of Vanlife is a film tailored for an American audience, which may diminish its appeal for Australians.
All things considered, Lounsbury and his team, have created a spectacular documentary. The Meaning of Vanlife will ignite your sense of wanderlust and desire to live on the road - or at least awaken a yearning for a camping trip in the middle of nowhere. It highlights the good in humanity and will open people’s eyes to a different outlook on life.
The Meaning of Vanlife will be released on April 26th on Stan, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon and Vimeo on Demand.