The new documentary Craigslist Joe makes its premiere today (Thursday) in theaters and on iTunes, and the premise is simple and intriguing: A guy named Joseph Garner, hoping to find a sense of community in an impersonal era, decided to live for 31 days through nothing but Craigslist postings. He embarked on the journey with nothing but a laptop, cell phone, toothbrish, and the clothes he was wearing — no money, no car, no food — and set out relying on people he found on Craigslist to offer him what he needed to survive. The result is this movie, with Zach Galifianakis as Executive Producer, and we had the opportunity to ask Joe himself a few questions:
Nerdist: What gave you the idea for this — what gave rise to the idea, and how did you hit upon the specific concept of living through Craigslist postings?
A couple years ago, when our country was first entering the recession, nobody really knew how bad it was going to get. People were losing their homes, entire life savings wiped out and it seemed like there was this mentality of every person for themselves. I felt disconnected from what was going on outside my immediate circle and wanted to see how people were getting by during these tough times.
I also wanted to see how technology and social media were factoring in to people’s interactions. Choosing Craigslist as my platform, seemed like a good place. I could use technology to interact with strangers around the country outside of my social circle.
2. Was there any point at which you thought you couldn’t continue? Was there a low point? (Did you go into this expecting the best or the worst from humanity?)
I went out there with pretty low expectations in terms of what I would be able to do using the internet. I wasn’t sure if I would even be able to make it out of LA, let alone make any meaningful connections. There were low points, days without food or even places to sleep, but over the course of the month I was blown away by people’s willingness to reach out and connect with me.
3. What kind of reception did you get from people in the business (and Craigslist and, for that matter, your friends and family) when you told the your plans? How did Zach become involved?
The night before I left I met up with some friends and was trying to explain to them what I was about to do. The overwhelming response was, “huh?” And “I don’t understand what it means when you say you’re going to be living off of Craigslist,”
Whether they understood it or not, my friends and family were supportive, and having a 6’4” camera guy along for the journey (who I met off Craigslist the week before I left) definitely made my mom feel more at ease. Craigslist didn’t know about my documentary at the time I left, but I ended up sending them an email halfway through the month, because I couldn’t believe where this website was taking me.
As far as Zach’s involvement, we met and became friends while working on The Hangover. I told him about the idea and had shown him an early cut of the film to get his feedback. He loved the concept and wanted to help get it out there.
4. Not to give anything away, but what have you learned from your experience? Are you more or less optimistic about society after doing this?
I learned how much more you can experience by simply stepping out of your comfort zone and not being afraid to explore the unknown. Living in LA, it’s sometimes hard for me to remember that. It was incredibly inspiring to be able to connect with people all across the county, and hear their unique stories. If given the chance, I would do it all over again. Maybe next time, I’ll do it for a year…
Craigslist Joe is in select theaters starting today, when it screens in a sold-out show in New York, followed by a week at the Laemmle Music Hall in Los Angeles August 3-9. An August 5th show in San Francisco is sold out, but tickets remain for screenings in Portland (August 6th), Seattle (August 7th), and Salt Lake City (August 9th), with shows in Chicago, Washington, Morgantown, WV, and Miami pending. The schedule and ticket links can be found by clicking here, where you can also put in a request for a screening. You can also rent the movie via iTunes starting today.