We Heart Our Readers: Allie Bombach, Documentary Filmmaker

Allie Bombach of Red Reel Films takes us on a journey to find the simpler things in life.

When we grow up we want to be our readers.

Allie Bombach blew our minds and won our hearts from the first time we watched the trailer for her film, 23 Feet. The documentary, released earlier this year, follows Allie and two friends as they cross the country in a 1970 Airstream, meeting with people who have ditched their traditional lifestyles for the open road and the great outdoors. A director, producer, and videographer, Allie uses her gift for storytelling to promote simple living and respect for the environment – things we definitely dig here at EcoSalon, along with Allie.

Name: Allie Bombach

Website: www.23feet.org

How did you get introduced to EcoSalon?

I started reading EcoSalon because of Foodie Underground and the fabulous Anna Brones, and I’m hooked on the home design tips and interviews with rockin folks. For me, it’s a wonderful source of inspiration and at the same time a guilty pleasure during the work day to check out the recent articles.

Tell us about 23 Feet.

23 Feet is a short documentary about people who live simply to do what they love outside. We set out across the west in the summer of 2010 searching for the community of people who live in cars, buses, and other small spaces ditching the creature comforts of today’s society to raft, surf, and climb. The name 23 Feet comes from my own 1970, 23-foot Airstream that I live in and took from Colorado to Oregon during the production of the film. After the film was finished, we took the Airstream back on the road for an outdoor theater tour in the summer of 2011 that screened the film off the side of the Airstream. We had about 30 screenings in a variety of landscapes from the middle of wilderness to the middle of cities. For me, the whole experience was an exploration in the meaning of home, community, and ultimate happiness and passion in what you do.

The Airstream has a name. What is it, and why?

Roma is her name, and besides all the roaming she does, she just seemed like a middle-aged old woman that would give you great advice. Hence, Roma. Perfect.

You tricked out Roma with recycled and reclaimed materials. What are some of the highlights?

Roma’s got some snazz to her for sure. Her cork floors are pretty awesome and she has reclaimed wood for the desk and bed. What I am excited about is the upcoming improvements to make her really cozy and sustainable. I’m hoping to add a wood stove, solar panels, and one fine day, a composting toilet. As of now, she’s pretty simple with no plumbing, and the truck charges the batteries in the Airstream after a drive. So lots more to do!

I imagine there was a fair share of magical moments on the road. What was the craziest?

The production was wild. We had no idea if what we set out to do would actually work! We didn’t know if we would find characters, or even if we would make it to Oregon. The truck pulling the Airstream broke down several times, and it seemed like surprises were around every corner. And because most of the budget came after the film was edited, we found ourselves sleeping in a lot of random spots. It was pretty adventurous. The film screening tour was one moment of bliss after another. We were on the road for four months, winding in and out of national parks and major cities. Connecting with so many people who have lived (or want to live) the lifestyle documented in 23 Feet was very magical. To tell a story is one thing, to have that story compel people to tell you their story is a whole different gift. It made all that hard work worth every moment and then some.

What five items/products made life on the road easier?

In a small space, the things you own are few, but very important. From your toothbrush to your water bottle, everything needed to be sturdy and worthy of the road.

Innate Gear Thermos – I swear you can put your coffee in hot and it will still be piping 8 hours later. It’s a miracle bottle.

French press – Any appliance that doesn’t need electricity is a great find. Plus, my favorite way to make coffee.

Slippers – Just because you are on the road, doesn’t mean you can’t be cozy. I travel with slippers everywhere I go.

Horny Toad dresses – They don’t wrinkle, they are super comfortable, and they are super easy to clean. I love me some Horny Toad.

Dr. Bronner’s soap – All purpose awesomeness. Just a few drops and you’ll shine like a new penny. It’s way better for the environment too. (Ed. Note: We love their hair conditioner too.)

What creature comforts did you miss the most?

The only thing I can think of is plants. I miss having little plants around. It’s like a class 5 earthquake in the Airstream when we are on the road, so no plants have been able to take that kinda shock! Other than that, you won’t find me missing TV or a dishwasher.

Any plans for a sequel? In other words, what’s up next?

My business partner Sarah Menzies and I run a production company called Red Reel. We had such a powerful reaction to the outdoor theater tour last summer that we are excited to be able to continue the grassroots unique distribution for projects to come. As far as the stories in the works, we’re sticking with character driven pieces, and pointing our lens to the movers and shakers of environmental and social change. Right now Roma is sitting in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with my family, and Sarah and I are calling San Jose Del Cabo, Baja, home for the winter. We’re filming in the water and editing our 2012 spring films. If there were a sequel to 23 Feet, I think we might take it onto sail boats, but right now, 23 feet of home has turned into about 3 feet of suitcase, and life couldn’t be better.

Jessica Marati

Jessica Marati currently resides in New York City and covers travel and sustainability for EcoSalon. Catch her weekly column, Behind the Label.