SANTA BARBARA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! “Quartzsite is Heaven’s waiting room,” says Paul of the subject in Ryan Maxey’s documentary, One Road to Quartzsite. The town of Quartzsite is an insignificant point on the map that I’ve driven through many times on my way to Phoenix, Arizona. It’s a small desert campsite community just past the California border. Maybe I stopped there to get some gas once or twice. I’ve always wondered how an isolated town like this survives, and now I know.
Quartzsite has an annual population of 2,000 citizens. As winter approaches, the population rises to 1 million people looking to escape the cold winters of the north and fueling its economy for the year. As a result, the city is flooded in November by campers, RVs, and vacation homeowners. Shot cinema verité, One Road to Quartzsite takes us on a tour of this town the other nine months of the year.
Quartzsite is primarily a senior community with residents attending church and gathering at the senior center for some aerobics or a cookout of either pancakes or hamburgers. In the late 2000s, many people flocked to Quartzsite purchasing real estate and vacation homes and soon lost everything during the Great Recession of 2008. The charm of this town is the new-formed community created as a result.
“…spotlight several of its citizens and the social and economic struggles they face.”
Director Maxey and crew spotlight several of its citizens and the social and economic struggles they face. Three homeschooled children armed with a video camera decide to create their own religion. A mother, who lost her daughter decades ago, now faces the weakening condition of her husband — the infamous Naked Bookseller. There’s also a Trump-supporter who takes an enlightening trip to the Mexico border.
One Road to Quartzsite also shows how the town is a spiritual place for many. There is a touching story of a trans woman seeking spiritual healing and acceptance from her RV home. Also, many of those newly arriving in Quartzsite are running from their problems and abusers in life. We soon see that many of the town’s residents are prepared to open their hearts, providing both safety and shelter. One young man describes what led to his meth addiction and the camp director’s tough choices when he is caught using meth on campgrounds (breaking one of the only few rules going in).
I’ve not always been a fan of cinema verité in the past, but I’m coming around. I like a straightforward narrative, but with cinema verité, personal and emotional stories simply come out of the film’s subjects, who carry their life’s stories in their physicality and everyday life. So ultimately, the documentary feels like the town’s photo album and not a directionless story.
At first glance, Quartzsite appears to be one of these dying desert communities out in the middle of nowhere. There’s no cavalry coming to the rescue. The government would just assume let nature and the economy take their course. When dropped in the middle of this town, you’ll see genuine compassion and community on display…along with more than a handful of quirky characters. Director Maxey does an incredible job telling each subject’s stories. He masterfully captures the personality of the town and its individual citizens. He pulls out each person’s documentary while at the same time giving us a glimpse at day-to-day life in the desert and maybe a tiny sliver of hope for a better tomorrow.
There is literally One Road to Quartzsite, and it’s so easy to drive by it at 80 MPH and just see a word on a sign. Real people are living here fighting off the inevitable…but real nonetheless. They don’t know the future, but what they do know is the present, and if anything, they’ve found contentment and community in the present.
One Road to Quartzsite held its west coast premiere at the 2022 Santa Barbara International Film Festival. For more information, visit the One Road to Quartzite Facebook page.
"…masterfully captures the personality of the town and its individual citizens."