Having premiered at the 2019 Mountainfilm Film Festival in Telluride, the documentary Finding Home in Boomtown follows a young religious couple who sell their possessions and devote their life to helping homeless Texans. The film is directed by Matthew Maxwell, who WSU Film Studies students had the opportunity to meet and learn from during our travel study to Mountainfilm, and we are happy to be able to bring this acclaimed film to Winona State as part of the 2019 University Theme Film Series: “Careers, Conflicts, and Callings”. The film will be showing at 7:00 pm, Tuesday October 29th in Stark 103 Miller Auditorium. Please join us–and director Matthew Maxwell, our guest via Skype–for this event!

Matt Maxwell with Winona State students and faculty at 2019 Mountainfilm Film Festival

From a technical approach, Boomtown employs an observational / participatory mode of filmmaking, as characters often speak directly to the camera, but also go entire scenes without acknowledging its presence. The film can be commended for its plethora of fascinating characters: homeless subjects Louis and Holly are perfect examples. These characters humanize the story and give audiences a personality to connect and empathize with. Additionally, the film succeeds in balancing an emotionally complex story by use of intercutting humor, especially with a less-than-aware real estate agent. Lastly, the documentary’s coverage of John Mark and Briana is quite impressive, considering the director’s personal relationship to the subjects and the vulnerable moments he was forced to capture.

Finding Home in Boomtown follows John Mark and Briana as they prepare to move out of their large home in exchange for an RV trailer. Their day-to-day life is documented as they feed the homeless, check up on friends who live in the streets, and work towards creating a community for people without a home. The film cuts between John Mark and Briana, as well as a local real estate agent and some homeless subjects. The film clearly presents the issue of homelessness in Midland Texas, and a viable solution for the issue, all within an entertaining and emotional ninety-minute story.

Much of the film’s charm comes from the homeless subjects. One charismatic subject is Louis, a close friend of John Mark, who he visits periodically for food or check-ins. The stigma and assumptions of homelessness are challenged through these interactions, as subjects (such as Louis) are shown to be quite normal and especially kind-hearted. Holly, another homeless subject, speaks directly to the camera about being mistreated on the streets. Through her conversation she mentions being treated poorly to the point of most strangers, denying her of any respect whatsoever. This scene displays the social struggles of homelessness in a way audience members can relate and connect to. Beyond that, subjects like Holly are friendly and have interesting stories to tell, which helps the audience connect to the characters and root for Holly to eventually get a home of her own.

Maxwell contrasts these serious stories with the inclusion of a flamboyant real-estate agent. The addition of her character shows the greed or gluttonous behaviors of buying a house, as she represents the expensive neighborhoods that make up Midland. The humor comes from her personality and reactions. One moment, John Mark shows her the extremely tiny house he plans to live in, and we get to experience her dumbfounded reaction. Another scene we watch her dress up in a prom dress and jump into a pool, all for an ad campaign to sell houses. The premise is ludicrous but highly entertaining. Considering the amount of time discussing tiny houses, the scenes with the real estate agent create a nice contrast, to show what having too much space looks like. The humor also adds a nice contrast to the serious tone of the rest of the film.

Filming John Mark, Briana, and their daughter

Maxwell first met Briana and John Mark six years prior, while filming their wedding ceremony. After keeping in touch for the past few years, Maxwell heard about what the subjects were doing and decided to document their journey and create a feature about it. As easy as it sounds to move into a mobile home, the family has a hard time completely adjusting to the lifestyle, resulting in some vulnerable moments. The couple, currently raising a child, gets a surprise when they unexpectedly get pregnant and learn they will be raising two children soon in their tiny house. Capturing these personal moments of vulnerability is already difficult for a documentarian, but when you are familiar with the subjects it becomes even more of an ethical question of when to keep cameras rolling or stop the tape and comfort subjects. Luckily Matthew was able to capture several of these moments uninterrupted, including a breakdown, the pregnancy reaction, and the response to a death of a close friend. These moments display the raw emotion of the film and set the tone. Without Matthew choosing to keep the cameras on, the film would have less impact and garner less of an emotional response from audiences.

Briana, the young wife and mother featured in Finding Home in Boomtown

Finding Home in Boomtown is one of those films that is more about finding a calling than pursuing a career.  It has a lot to convey to anyone choosing or questioning a career path, and these are our career takeaways:

Follow your passion. The young couple John Mark and Briana are taking a huge risk in leaving the comfort of their home and paycheck.  Not all roads are already paved, sometimes you have to go off road, leaving safety and comfort behind in order to reach a career you love.

Find out what difference you can make. Boomtown showcases a career in which the impact being made is easy to see. While not all careers are this simple, the film teaches us that seeing the difference you can make in somebody’s life can inspire and motivate. Whether you work in Tech Support or are an auto mechanic, you can make a difference in other people’s lives.

Turn your job into something you love. In the film John Mark and Briana get up every day at 5 a.m. to deliver food to the homeless. They get through it by making friends with those who live on the street. Their new job becomes something they enjoy because they create a community with those they serve. If you are stuck at a job, find a way to change your perception and transform your work into something enjoyable.

Finding Home in Boomtown’s charismatic characters and emotional impact make it a documentary that will leave audience members with tears in their eyes. The film will play Tuesday, October 29th in Miller Auditorium (Stark 103) at 7 pm. Attendance is free and the screening will conclude with a Skype Q&A with director Matt Maxwell.  Follow us on Facebook for news about this and other events!