Film Review

The Parking Lot Movie

todayJune 29, 2023 69 2

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By – Gareth Jones

For fans of simple, DIY documentaries, stories about underdogs and the service industry, Slacker/ films with people sitting around philosophizing

I decided to write about this film after researching the amazing Yo La Tengo (who put on an astonishing show at Saturn) and discovering that James McNew had been a parking lot attendant and was interviewed throughout a documentary about parking. I immediately knew I needed to see this film.

Full Disclosure:  I was a parking lot attendant.  From the age of 16 to my late 20s I worked in many different parking lots and events. From Jazz games at the old Salt Palace, to the Utah State Fair, and so many more.  It was the perfect job for a college student and helped me pay for my education.  I could take my books and read all day.  I also made many lifelong friends in that industry.  So many fascinating and unique individuals have worked in the parking industry.  That is the good side.  On the bad side, the constant hatred and stupidity of humanity was on full display.  I truly believed that I was doing my small part of controlling the chaos of the world.  Without parking controls, the entire capitalist system would collapse.  I still return every year to Park City to help control this chaos at the Sundance Film Festival. This was one of many aspects that is exceptionally presented by Meghan Eckman in The Parking Lot Movie.

Released in 2010 and premiering at the South by Southwest Film Festival and later playing on the public television show Independent Lens, this compact documentary succinctly captures the heart of my experience and so many others who have worked in the service industry of parking.  It is the tale of the famous Corner Parking Lot in Charlottesville, Virginia, home of the University of Virginia.  In fact, this diminutive yet radical lot is right by all the bars in that town, thus presenting a constant supply of customers and some of the most obnoxious people in the world, the entitled so-called elite of society.  The owner, Chris Farina, a world-traveled philosopher, realizes the importance of the lot lies with the people who work with him, rather than the customers or any numerative value that can be gained.  Over the years he has hired many students from the Philosophy and Anthropology departments at the university including some future professors. He has also hired many musicians, such as James McNew.  Through the interviews and the interactions, we are shown how this occupation can provide an arena for contemplation and intellectual development. We leave with a strong understanding that how you treat a parking attendant says a great deal about you as a person.  Many of these interviews are humorous but there is a poignant aspect to it as well.  I related to it on so many levels.  I worked with many official philosophers (people with degrees in the Humanities and Philosophy) and unofficial philosophers who through the job had developed an ability to see the machinations of humanity from a deeply introspective view.  The film is a crowd pleaser but it also highlights how important it is to treat people with dignity and not be a loggerheaded buffoon.  

Available to watch for free on YouTube, Tubi, and many more.  

Written by: Gareth Jones

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  1. Casey on June 30, 2023

    I saw this at Sidewalk in 2010 and loved it. I just went back a found my review of it at the time:

    Although not as professionally shot, and without a real “ending” like Marwencol, this documentary still held its ground. It’s about a group parking lot attendants at a corner lot in Charlottesville, VA. And it’s hilarious. All the guys working there are way too smart for their own good, have way too much downtime while working the lot, and don’t like their rich (usually fraternity/sorority-types) customers. And the boss likes it that way. His motto is that his employees come first. This movie really is super hard to explain, but just know that it’s really, really funny, and super entertaining. I felt like I really connected with a lot of what the guys dealt with, having worked valet for about a year, so I think I might have liked this movie more than some, but I really think pretty much anyone (who’s not rich and a jerk) would like it. It really gets to the root of how people treat other people and how people who work “service” jobs are treated at times by people who feel they are entitled to certain things simply because of their family, wealth, etc. See it if you can.