Natalie Elliott Interviews America's Parking Lot Director Jonny Mars
Over here at the LRFF, we’re pretty stoked about the opening night feature documentary, America’s Parking Lot, which not only chronicles some hilarious diehard Dallas Cowboys fans but their changing relationship to a team that, with the construction of a new overwrought, futuristic stadium, seems to be isolating their fanbase. In anticipation of its screening at the festival opening (and the awesome tailgate-themed party afterwards), we got in touch with director Jonny Mars to find out his inspiration for the project, what he hopes viewers take away from the film, and what he’s looking forward in his first-ever LRFF experience.
Can you describe how you first met the main characters Tiger, Cy, and the Gate 6 crew?
For years I have said that football is better on TV. It’s easier to follow the game that way. A friend of mine continued to challenge me on the idea that I was “doing it” wrong. It wasn’t always about the game. He said we need to go three hours early and we need to tailgate. And that’s what we did. He took me to all these spots around Texas Stadium that had become historic tailgating destinations throughout the last 30 or so years. He kept talking about this place and these people called the GATE 6 TAILGATERS. He told me about Tigers pep rally and Cy’s food all day long. Then we went and I was blown away. I also knew that the stadium and Gate 6 was going to be demolished two seasons later. That’s conflict. It had to be documented. Five years later there is a movie.
How was the reception at SXSW? At Dallas? Was there ever any question that the film should be premiered anywhere other than Texas?
I have been doing this a long time. There is never, ever, ever a slam dunk feature acceptance to a festival. Especially in the doc world. Especially at such great and established places as SXSW and the Dallas International FIlm Festival. I am very thankful that they thought the film was great enough to get behind it and take a chance. And boy, we are all glad they did because the crowd reactions have been amazing. People always show up in their Cowboy gear. In Dallas people came in full body silver and blue make up. It was awesome. The movie connects with certain people in a very special way too. I have had countless fans, male and female, come up afterwards crying and telling me how much they miss the way it was, what they loved about the old Texas Stadium. The stadium is demolished in front of your very eyes in the movie. It chronicles the changing landscape of a Major League’s source of revenue. The movie, a die hard fan’s loyalty and an owners motivations are not about football…that’s just where those three things begin.
It seems that your background is mostly as an actor and producer. What motivated you to direct a film, especially a documentary?
I’m a storyteller. I saw one developing that interested me and I had always wanted to direct something long form. I took a chance. I don’t know if I exactly knew what I’d be getting into but I learned a lot. Maybe too much.
Can you describe your personal relationship with football fandom?
Football in Texas is an event. Communities are built around it. You can’t grow up in that state and not have fond memories of watching a game with friends and family.
Were there any documentaries that influenced how you would pursue the direction of your own?
Heavy Metal Parking Lot, Hands on a Hard Body, The War Room, The Store, Vernon, Florida…to name a few.
How did you get into acting? Did you always know that one day you’d want to direct a feature project?
I started doing theater a the age of 8. It didn’t take long for me to be on stage to know that’s what I wanted to do. I enjoy performing. I never wanted to direct. It just became time.
What was the biggest challenge in bringing this project together?
The sheer scope of the project was tough. Four years of shooting is a long time. Beyond that driving the 200 miles to and from Dallas every game while packing the car with as many people and cameras as I could afford each game. For the most part no one ever believed in the project or that there was a story developing. So I had to fund the production with my own money and favors from friends…for four years. It wasn’t until I got into post production that people with money began to take the movie serious.
Looking back, were there any interview subjects you wish you’d included?
Very early on we spoke with Roger Staubach. He was very nice on the phone and would have been great. He embodies everything tha makes the Cowboys America’s Team. He respectfully declined to be on camera though.
Do you consider your documentary to be a piece of activism? Was that always the intention?
I’ll let the viewers describe it how they would like. The intent was always to present a certain group of people a conversation about public vs. private money. It’s a conversation that is very difficult for a lot of Americans to agree on. The movie documents how a group of diehard fans are displaced because a new stadium is built for their team. The funding of that stadium with both public funds and high priced ticket derivatives, called PSL’s, was extremely interesting to me. This was my attempt at finding a common ground within that conversation by using sports, fans and ownership. It’s a love letter to all fans of all sports of all leagues. The era of casual participation and enjoyment is changing. This holds true for a lot of things in America. I’m not ok with it.
What do you hope viewers at the LRFF take away from America’s Parking Lot?
Ultimately, I hope they are entertained. I think the movie is a fun ride and takes some unsuspecting turns. If they learn a thing or two along the way, I’d consider that a bonus.
Is there anything you’re looking forward to experiencing at the LRFF?
The people! I’ve heard such great things about the fest and have never been able to attend. And for the movie to play opening night is a huge honor. The Renaud bro’s have planned a big tailgate to go with the screening, too. It sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun!
Can you talk a bit about what other projects you have coming up? Any more directorial work? Any more documentaries?
I produced and act in a feature that is debuting at the LA Film Festival in June called Saturday Morning Massacre. It’s a rated-R, Scooby Doo parody about a gang of paranormal investigators that get trapped in a haunted mansion. I play the Shaggy role. Outside of that I have a few features/shorts that I’ve acted in that are in post production and should hopefully be making the rounds soon. I’m very interested in directing a narrative feature next but I do have a doc I want to make. I haven’t pulled the trigger on anything just yet. I’m still looking for the right character(s) to follow.