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OU alumni team up in California to create 'Desert Dreams' film about Slab City

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Slab City

Actors Connor Garelick (center) and Jaxon Graf prepare for a scene at Salvation Mountain in Slab City, California. Two OU alumni are in the process of creating a film set in Slab City called "Desert Dreams."

Two OU alumni are raising funds for a coming-of-age film set in the desert community of Slab City in California.

Ezra Gentle, an OU film and media studies graduate, wrote and will direct “Desert Dreams,” a film dealing with topics ranging from homelessness to the foster care system. Emily Calhoun, an OU public relations graduate, will produce the film. 

After filming the trailer about three years ago, Gentle is raising funds for the movie through a Kickstarter campaign. 

The inspiration for the film came after Gentle learned about Slab City, a government-owned site in the Sonoran Desert inhabited by squatters and RV owners. “Slabbers,” as they are called, are nonconformists who live sustainably and for free, Gentle said.

“On paper, the government considers them homeless, since they don't officially have an address or really pay taxes or have a source of income ... (but) they don't consider themselves homeless,” Gentle said.

Many films and music videos have been set in the town, but Gentle said he feels it is often mischaracterized. After visiting Slab City about nine different times, he stays in touch with many “slabbers” and wants to tell stories representing their everyday lives, he said.

“With the amount of time I spent there and the relationships I developed, my goal is that I can paint an accurate picture, something that's very authentic and realistic,” Gentle said.

The film will explore the city through the lens of two brothers who grew up in the foster care system. Their relationship is partially based on Gentle’s relationship with his younger brother, but he hopes anyone who has siblings will relate to the story, he said.

Gentle and Calhoun met at OU while Gentle was working in the computer lab in Gaylord College, and they got back in touch after they graduated and moved to Los Angeles. Besides this OU connection, Gentle also said his film and media studies degree prepared him for everything he is doing now.

“I didn't expect it to,” he said. “I find myself referencing films that we studied in classes and going back to lectures that the professors gave and applying those things on a regular basis, whether it's an interesting shot, or some story they told us from behind the scenes, or just looking at old films for inspiration.”

The film’s Kickstarter campaign has reached about $20,000 out of its $25,000 goal and will close at midnight on Nov. 19. If “Desert Dreams” secures enough funding, Gentle will begin filming it next fall, he said.

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