Streaming Spotlight by Cindy Summers
Nomadland – Hulu
In January 2011, a gypsum mine in Empire, Nevada shut down after 88 years, displacing all the permanent residents. Among them was Fern (Francis McDormand), who recently lost her husband and now also lost her town, community and everday life. Fern bought a van that she custom built to live in and began a nomad life traveling across the country doing seasonal jobs, camping when she could and often parking in the safest places she could find in between.
Along the way Fern stayed steadfast to being independent, insisting that she was not homeless, just houseless and comfortable with her nomadic life. She was a seaonal worker for Amazon, which fortunately included camping benefits, and she connected with other vandwellers for other work and living opportunities.
Nomadland has a mix of actors and real life characters that give an intimate look into the lives of van dwellers revealing many unique stories of how they came to live in a home on wheels. The largest gathering at the time was the RTR (Rubber Tramp Rendvous) where seasoned vandwellers shared their knowledge and experiences with fellow nomads.
One woman who worked in corporate America over 20 years had a friend who died from liver failure a week before his retirement and never got to sail his boat he had in his driveway. He told her to not waste any time so she retired as soon as she could because she didn’t want to die with her sailboat in the driveway. Another was a veteran and couldn’t be around noises or people, fireworks, crowds and so was at peace living the lifestyle. Fern felt a sense of community and tribe with the other van dwellers that she met at RTR.
Fern also met Swanky at the rendezvous, who helped her with a flat tire and after they came back to town shared that she had lung cancer that spread to her brain. Swanky was given 7-8 months to live so she was taking her final trip back to Alaska to a beautiful kayaking area she loved, leaving her the paint to Fern to spruce up her van.
Fern met Dave (David Strathairn) at RTR and saw him again camping at the Badlands Park, where he got sick and ended up in the hosptial. Dave later helped Fern to get her next job in a restaurant at Wall Drug, but Dave’s nomad life was interupted by the arrival of his son sharing he had a grandchild on the way, so Dave left and invited Fern to come anytime.
Thoughout the movie, Fern seemed very settled in living the van dwelling life and even cleared out the storage unit she had in Empire to move on from her life there. Nomadland is filled with strikingly beautiful landscapes that are common places most likely missed by most rushing to their destinations instead of enjoying the journey. The lense of Fern’s life presents viewers with a slower pace creating a special grace anyone could enjoy if only they slowed down enough to be a part of the world around them.
Runtime: 1h 48m