America’s Parking Lot opens the Little Rock Film Festival

May 28, 2012

America’s Parking Lot is the opening night film for this year’s Little Rock Film Festival.
I excerpted part of this in my OnFilm column last Friday. Here’s the complete review:

America’s Parking Lot
Grade: 87
Cast: Documentary, with Stan “Tiger” Shults and Cy Ditmore
Director: Jonny Mars
Rating:Not rated
Running time: 70 minutes

America’s Parking Lot is a cinema verite documentary by Austin, Texas-based filmmaker Jonny Mars, about Dallas Cowboy fans disenfranchised when Jerry Jones moved the team from venerable Texas Stadium to the $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium after the 2008 season. Specifically he follows two super fans — Stan “Tiger” Shults and Cy Ditmore, who for years have been part of the “Gate Six” tailgating scene before Cowboys games. Both of these guys are a little bit loony — in a way that anyone acquainted with Southeastern Conference Football — around these parts, hard-core Razorback — culture will recognize, if not quite understand.

Shults’ house — which looks to be an upper-middle-class mini-manse— is full of Cowboy tchotchkes, and he freely admits that his love of all things Cowboy cost him his first marriage. (Basically, his first wife compelled him to choose between her and his team, and, well, there you go.) He named his daughter Meredith Landry after the Cowboy quarterback Don Meredith and venerable coach Tom Landry (maybe she didn’t get such a bad break — Tiger could have named her Staubach Switzer or Aikman Gaile).

Tiger really feels his destiny is entwined with the Cowboys’ — he points out he was born in the year they were founded, and later attributes his father’s early death to their decision to move from the old Cotton Bowl to the brand new Texas Stadium in 1971.

“I think I probably think about the Cowboys more than I think about my kids and my wife,” he says, and he notes that while at 5 feet 6 inches and about 140 pounds, he could never have played for the Cowboys, he sees his parking lot leadership — he speechifies to his fellow tailgaters through a bullhorn before each game — as a vital contribution to the team.

Cy’s situation is a little different. He points out it’s 240 miles from his house to Texas Stadium and he makes the four-hour drive with his portable tailgating kitchen — a rig he estimates cost him between $12,000 to $13,000 — for every home game. Once there, he cooks up and serves between $700 and $1,000 worth of meat to his fellow Gate Sixers gratis.

Only Cy doesn’t actually have a house; he has a plot where someday he intends to build a house. And those plans have been put off indefinitely because in order to buy season tickets at the new Cowboys Stadium, he’s had to buy a “personal seat license” (commonly called a PSL) for the right to buy season tickets.

Since he didn’t have $20,000, the Cowboys financed it for him. He’s got a 30-year note. And his PSL just gives him the right to buy season tickets — at $150 a seat per game (including exhibition games). And if for any reason he decides he can’t buy season tickets, well, his PSL goes away.
Now that was obviously Cy’s choice — he could have bought a somewhat cheaper PSL (that’s what Tiger did) and settled for less attractive season tickets. Or he could have simply stayed home and watched the game on television. But it is the nature of pathological fandom that he simply couldn’t.

The tragedy is that while Tiger and Cy obviously feel they have a stake in the Cowboys, the truth is they’re owned by Jones, and that Jones is a businessman who’s free to charge what the market will bear.

Mars seems embedded in this culture and while it’s tough to see how a movie such as this could make it as a commercial project, it’s deeply fascinating to those interested in the business of big-time sports and it’s not hard to see why the LRFF chose it for its opening night. There’s the Jones connection and the fact that there are a lot of Cowboy fans here — and a lot of Cowboy haters.

While it’s a little like a real-life version of the Patton Oswalt film Big Fan, it’s also a human — and humane — story. I wish Mars had sometimes been a little tougher on his subjects, but his genuine affection for these poor blighted guys comes through. I wish in retrospect he’s let us know what these guys did for a living, but it’s the nature of cinema vertie filmmaking that ideas will be surfaced without followup.

Mars’ is obviously influenced by the cult classic short, Heavy Metal Parking Lot, which he alludes to with his title, but he’s found more than enough material to flesh out his feature length film. The film festival’s Natalie Elliot has a nice Q & A with Mars here.

Fandom is a strange disease, from which a lot of us suffer. Mars shows us some freaks like us.

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