Slab City is a kingdom of squalor in California, but writer-director Sean Baker brings to life a diamond in the rough in his 11-minute film “Snowbird.”
The desert campsite’s vibrant, mystifying landscape and quirky culture was captured entirely on an iPhone–as Baker previously did with his critically praised indie comedy “Tangerine.”
The film, released on YouTube on Monday, is a collaboration with fashion brand Kenzo, featuring clothes from the design house’s spring-summer 2016 collection by creative directors Humberto Leon and Carol Lim.
Speaking to The New York Times, Baker said he found a fashion film “so appealing” because “there would be a narrative and because I would be able to experiment.” Adding, “This was the first time I was actually excited by a project I was being commissioned for.”
“Snowbird” follows a young woman, played by model Abbey Lee of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” as she interacts with her fellow residents of the desert campsite. Andy Warhol model Mary Woronov, “The Mob Squad” actor Clarence Williams III and real-life Slab City dwellers round out the cast.
The title refers to Slab City’s seasonal inhabitants–mostly retirees, homeless folk and people who prefer to live on the fringe of society. With temperatures that reach 120-degrees during the summer, Slab City is only tolerable for most people during cooler climates, like in the winter.
Located 156 miles northeast of San Diego, the site is uncontrolled and has no electricity, running water, sewage or trash disposal. The squatters take up residence in RVs and utilize solar power and generators for energy. Slab City derives its name from abandoned World War II barracks.
In a previous interview with Made in Hollywood, Baker explained his novel filmmaking approach using smartphones. “We did it out of budgetary constraints, quite honestly,” he explained at the time. “I’m on my fifth feature film and I’m out of favors—I couldn’t ask for the big cameras.”