'Slab City' documentary captures spirit of locals' lifestyle

May 05, 2012|By JULIO MORALES | Staff Writer, Copy Editor
  • Allie Neill (right) is shown with her family prior to the screening of the documentary "Slab City" during the Imperial Valley Film Festival on Saturday at the Cinemark Theaters.
Julio Morales Photo

The subject of much national media attention in recent years, Slab City continued to draw an audience’s attention on Saturday, albeit this time a more local one. As part of the second day of the Imperial Valley Film Festival, an hour-long documentary titled “Slab City: A Wild Life in the Desert” was screened at the Cinemark Theaters in the Imperial Valley Mall.  

About 50 people were in attendance for the first of the film festival’s daylong film screenings, including Slab City’s Neill family, which figured prominently in the film.

Nineteen-year-old aspiring actress, dancer and singer Allie Neill said life in Slab City can be daunting, but she said there are plenty of reasons she still feels grateful. Having her family and friends close by at all times is a blessing she might not have had the opportunity to experience elsewhere, she said.

“I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything,” Neill said. 

The documentary presented an intimate portrait of the young woman as she adapted to her and her family’s living arrangements at Slab City. The documentary also featured winter visitors who prefer a sense of adventure and temporarily put down roots at the locale.

Financial hardships originally brought Neill’s family to the area in March of last year. Her father, Vince Neill, said that media organizations have in the past run roughshod over residents’ feelings by portraying the barren location just east of Niland in a careless way. He had much criticism to heap on those who choose to depict the community of free spirits as nothing more than “trash and alcoholics.”

However, the decision by the documentary’s director, Carolin Reiter, to spend more than a month on location prior to shooting in an effort to get to know some of the area’s permanent and temporary residents allowed her to gain many of the residents’ confidence, Vince Neill said.

The family is planning on leaving sometime in the near future for what it hopes becomes more of a stable life in the Los Angeles area.

“I hope and pray every day that we get a house,” Allie Neill said. 

The Neills’ presence at Slab City owes itself to the wanderlust ways of Allie Neill’s uncle James “Terrible Jim” Adams, who had been coming to the area off and on since 2006. Adams said he was on hand at the Slabs when actor Sean Penn arrived with a filming crew in preparation for the shooting of the feature film “Into the Wild.”

The film crews eventually left, but the 70-year-old stayed behind with nothing more than a sleeping bag and a backpack.

“I like it here because I got to meet a lot of good people,” Adams said.

A single visit to Slab City to distribute toys and gifts around Christmastime makes up 23-year-old Brain Salazar’s only experience with the area. He said that the documentary did a good job of capturing the essence and free-spiritedness of the location and its occupants.

When asked how he would describe Slab City to a person unfamiliar with the area, the Imperial resident thought for a minute before simply stating “somewhere out in the middle of nowhere.”

Staff Writer, Copy Editor Julio Morales can be reached at 760-335-4665 or at

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