One Road to Quartzsite

By: Trevor Chartrand

The town of Quartzsite, Arizona hosts an eclectic mix of wanderers each winter, from senior snowbirds in RVs to homeless nomads, from drug addicts to nudist bookstore owners. You’d think the locale, with its bizarre amalgamation of citizens and a variety of worldviews, would be a melting pot for an inevitable conflict.  However, as filmmaker Ryan Maxey demonstrates in his doc One Road to Quartzsite, the town is surprisingly tranquil – peaceful even, and a model example of humanity and cohabitation.

Maxey approaches this film with a slice-of-life, cinéma vérité kind of style.  Instead of a narrative, the film features a series of observational vignettes, including a woman doing laundry and later a parade celebrating a camel trainer, among many other things.  There are very few formal ‘interviews,’ with the camera instead functioning as a fly-on-the-wall observer, above all. 

The subjects of the film are endearing, having lived storied and unique lives.  We meet three nomadic children, for example, who travel with their families, and their idea of playtime is developing their own religion, complete with sacrificial rituals and chants.  Then there’s the young meth addict in recovery, who has other former addicts supporting and encouraging his sobriety. 

While aimlessness in pictures rarely works for me, there is something calming about this quiet little documentary.  It’s not exactly engrossing, and certainly not edge-of-your-seat entertainment, but the film and the people featured in it have a charming quality to them.  The film skirts around some heavy topics – and offers a lot of breathing room to ponder and reflect on the relevancy and meaning behind their musings. 

Overall, One Road to Quartzsite is a relatively easy watch.  The subjects of the film are unique, and many have faced hard times.  Their combined resilience and determination make up a unique little town;  it’s a menagerie of well-spoken ‘outcasts’ with no shame – they are who they are, they accept themselves and each other, and, surprisingly, demonstrate a level of understanding and patience we could all learn from.


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