Hoonivercinema: An evening with Vannin', a film about van culture

720_Vannin_Lede More than 1-1/2 years ago, Hooniverse’s Kamil Kaluski posted on this very site the trailer for Vannin‘, a Little Cabin Films documentary about van culture. Late last week, I stumbled upon a show listing for renowned Chicago indie rock club The Empty Bottle that included a screening of the film, a small van show outside the bar, some good food, and a couple of bands afterward. Vans were common enough near The Empty Bottle, so it seemed a good-enough venue for an introduction to vannin’. A scant few hours later, I trudged down Western Avenue in Chicago, just a few blocks from the press-your-luck car dealerships that had lingered since the van’s heyday, on my way to see the crowdfunded movie. 720_Stickers Vannin’ depicts the filmmakers’ (Nick Nummerdor and Andrew J. Morgan) first National Truck-In, an annual meeting of Vanners and van enthusiasts. As they document the events of the weekend (the 40th such “Van Nationals”), the filmmakers simultaneously unfold in parallel the story of van culture and the enthusiasts who love and revere their utility vehicles. The film weaves together a dozen or so candid interviews from the Van Nationals with some absolutely incredible archive film and home movies to tell the tale. If this were a film-reviewing site, I might compliment the fantastic (and often humorous) cinematography and absolutely fantastic sludge-metal soundtrack (if you’re into such things, as I am) while also mentioning that the pace and editing are a bit uneven, though not distractingly so. But this is an automotive site and, to be honest, it scarcely matters. 720_Banner1 What matters is that Nummerdor and Morgan tell a story that’s worth telling and they do it well. Anyone who’s part of an automotive subcultureparticularly one on the fringe of the car worldwill identify with the story. And without pressing down the film with a heavy hand, they both demonstrate care for and enjoyment of their subject matter. That sounds elementary, but the film could have easily followed a “Look at these weirdos” narrative, which would have truly missed the point. You’ll certainly laugh at Vannin’, but that’s because, as it turns out, Vanners have a tremendous sense of humor and an affinity for having a good time. There’s no auteur mocking here whatsover, just an honest look at what happens at a truck-in. It’s a great example of “Show, don’t tell” that leaves the viewer to think about and draw his/her own conclusions regarding automotive subculture, automotive counterculture, and even the broader notion of counterculture. 720_Vanners The show included a pre-screening block party (really was more like a half-block party) to take in eight custom vans and get a chance to chat with some of the filmmakers and some real-life Vanners. I grabbed a $3 hot dog (made and cased by Bite Cafe next door to the bar) and swigged on a cheap Shiner Bock while I perused the American slab sides with their swiveling captain’s chairs and plush headliners. 720_Chevy_Van I’d never been to a van show and while this was a relatively small one, it seemed a representative sample featuring a bit of everything. This green third-generation Chevy’s thick shag carpet simply refused to be photographed well, but the stock grille looks incredible. 720_Brown_Van This 3rd-gen Chevy haunts Brown Car Appreciation Society members’ dreams. 720_Morgan_Tradesman Filmmaker Morgan’s green Dodge Tradesman (above) was among those on display, the same one the film crew had taken to the Van Nationals for the documentary. He purchased it in 2011, years after owning a van that he and Nummerdor had hauled to shows when they were in punk bands. Morgan and Nummerdor included a customized van in their Hot Rod Hearts short films and soon discovered the custom van subculture still hanging on, anchored by a mix of enthusiasts who’d owned vans for decades and buoyed by a younger generation of vanners who spent their formative years in punk bands or other van-necessary situations. 720_66_Sportvan Paul “Chooie” Walsh’s was featured in the film with his Chevy Sportsvan, since replaced with this ’66 version, painted with leftover paint at a friend’s shop. 720_66_Interior Walsh’s Sportsvan is an exercise in minimalism with a column-shifted three-speed manual, a 250-cubic-inch straight six, and one window crank handle that gets passed between Chooie and his 16-year-old son, a budding vanner who drove the ’66 in the most-recent Van Nationals’ vankhana competition. 720_Chopped_Tradesman_ Van customizer and Custom Vanner Magazine publisher “Matchstick” didn’t have a van on display (Though the chopped-top, 360-equipped Trademan above is breathtaking, no?), but he did briefly explain vankhana, which sounds more like the traditional version of gymkhana than Ken Block’s hyperactive take on it (albeit with vans and with some things I hesitate to mention for their encroachment on dubious legal ground). Matchstick grew up versed in hot rod culture, but he really took a liking to vans when, like Morgan and Nummerdor, he too was bombing around in his teens, hauling his bandmates and gear to punk gigs. Customizing vans presented a massive blank canvas and his Matchstick Customs currently sells fiberglass molded parts and, of course, gull-wing door kits. 720_Mini_Van Every single vanner I talked to, even those with whom who I spoke informally, demonstrated an openness and good nature that is hard to match anywhere in the automotive world, even the famously gregarious 24 Hours of LeMons crowds with which I’m so accustomed. I received invitations to some local events, even though I lack a proper van, and may have some more van stories before too long. For now, enjoy a couple more photos: 720_AMX Here’s a gratuitous photo of a 390-equipped AMC AMX that a show attendee drove there. 720_Astro Sometimes, a lowered Astro with Superman graphics and custom grille is the answer. 720_Brown_TradesmanJPG But this…this Tradesman might be the absolute epitome of vannin’ aesthestics.   Here’s the Vannin’ trailer: [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWq8ZMUdQVg[/youtube]   Upcoming screenings of Vannin’: San Francisco Indie Film Festival: Roxie Theatre on June 12 @ 7:30 p.m. Aylmer, Ontario, Canada: Vanfest 19 on June 13, 14, and 15   [ All photos copyright 2014 Hooniverse/Eric Rood]  

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