Filmmakers Hope Station Wagon Documentary Gains Traction

Duo screens 'Wagonmasters' documentary at St. John's during Concours d'Elegance festivities.

For Chris Zaluski and Sam Smartt, Masters of Fine Arts students at Wake Forest University, the station wagon is a lost piece of Americana.

The car that was so integral to traveling families from the 1950s-1970s has virtually disappeared in favor of minivans, SUVs and crossover vehicles. Together, the pair set out to find the remaining wagon owners and chronicle the rise and fall of the wagon.

The students filmed Wagonmasters, their 40-minute documentary film about the American station wagon automobile, which screened Saturday to crowds at  in Plymouth during Concours d'Elegance festivities.

The pair hope the weekend exposure, as well as playing the film festival circuit and other auto events, can help build word-of-mouth interest in the film.

"This is cool because it's people who are naturally interested in your topic," Smartt said after an encore screening Saturday. "Hopefully it will be the first of many screenings we'll get to do at car shows."

The filmmakers said they feel fortunate that the first car show that invited them to screen their film was essentially the "Super Bowl of car shows."

Wagonmasters chronicles the cultural history of the American station wagon, and profiles vehicle owners who still are hanging onto their piece of Americana. The filming brought the duo to Detroit, as well as California, Vermont and other locales to meet affectionate wagon owners.

For Zaluski and Smartt, the essence of the film is more than just cars.

"If we wanted to make a film about cars, we could have done it with Mustangs or hot rods or whatever," Zaluski said. "I think station wagon kind of transcends the auto industry because people have all these memories of station wagons. It represents something in American postwar society that no other vehicle can do."

Interestingly, Zaluski said, younger generations often felt the vehicle was the antithesis of cool.

"Our generation views it as one of the most uncool vehicles ever," Zaluski said. "There's a real juxtaposition between what the enthusiasts love about it and what our generation views as being pretty lame."

Zaluski said these factors created a "perfect storm" indicating a wide appeal for the documentary film.

The pair hope to continue screening the film around the country before an eventual DVD release with some footage from the cutting room floor. The filmmakers said they captured about 80 hours of video while filming the documentary, of which just 40 minutes was used.

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