Alumination: Documentary illuminates the story of an American icon

Credit: Original article published by Classic Cars Journal.

Icons of the American roadways are subject to debate: Corvette or Model T? Route 66 or the modern interstates? Waffle House or Stuckey’s? Standard Oil or Shell? Paper maps or GPS?

But there may be one road-going icon that stand alone, above debate. It’s the Airstream trailer, and Alumination, a documentary film about the aluminum-riveted icon is scheduled to premiere in October (though read on to discover how you can view the movie before its official debut). 

Actually, the film was scheduled to premiere months ago, but that was before the coronavirus pandemic put such debuts, and people such as actor-turned-filmmaker Eric Bricker, on hold.

Actually, Bricker isn’t on hold, he and his team have been working on their next film project. Bricker is a native of St. Louis, where his grandmother took him to a lot of movies and where he was part of a high school choir. He was encouraged to try out for the school’s production of Guys and Dolls and landed the leading role of Sky Masterson. 

He enrolled at Indiana University to study business, only to end up majoring in English literature with minors in theater and art history

and acting in a production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Movies seen with his grandmother sparked his interest in Hollywood, and he moved there after college, only to discover he would rather make movies than appear in them. After 15 years, he also discovered he’d rather make those movies from a base in Austin, Texas, where he’s lived since 2007.

Bricker and his co-producer, Lisa Hughes, premiered their first joint project, Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Schulman, with Dustin Hoffman narrating the story of architectural photographer Julius Shulman. It was Hughes who called Bricker in 2013 and suggested the Airstream trailer as their next film project.

“That’s where the adventure began,” Bricker recalled, admitting that he and Hughes not only discovered the story of the popular aluminum trailers, but also that of their creator, Wally Byam, and the community of Airstream owners.

“We were fascinated by these iconic travel trailers, the iconic design piece and the iconic brand, that was our point of departure,” Bricker said. “But once we jumped in, the thing that really stood out was the people that use these trailers. We didn’t know about the community. We didn’t know what we were in for, the cult of Airstream. It’s the most welcoming world, a combination of enthusiasm and an openness and willingness to share.”

If that sounds like the collector car community, it makes sense. Airstream trailers are cherished by their owners much like collector cars by their owners. In some cases, Airstream owners have sought out vintage cars or trucks to pull their vintage trailers.

“Everyone, even Generation Z, has emblazoned in their memories Airstream travel trailers,” Bricker added. 

But the Airstream community wasn’t the only surprise the filmmakers encountered. 

Movie poster

“The story and the spirit of Wally Byam,” Bricker said of perhaps his biggest surprise in the long process. “He’s an unsung American entrepreneurial hero.  There aren’t too many individuals who have had his sense of vision, the rigor he would apply, continually striving to make things better, weathering the hard times, doing these caravans for marketing. I’m very happy we had the opportunity to tell the Airstream story, his story.”

However, figuring out how to braid together the various strings was one reason it took so long for the film to go from inspiration to final cut. What finally brought everything together, Bricker said, was a photograph of Byam touching an Airstream, “almost like he’s installing his spirit into the trailer, and I do think the travel trailers carry the spirit of Wally Byam.” A spirit, he added, activated as well by the people who use those trailers.

Alumination, which runs 77 minutes and is narrated by Kate Pierson of The B-52s, was scheduled to debut in the spring of 2020 at the Newport Beach Film Festival, which now will be held in October 2021. 

However, you don’t have to wait until then to see the movie. Silverstream Filmworks offers private screenings for groups of 50 or more, and if you want will offer question-and-answer sessions with the producers as well. 

“Independent film is tough,” Bricker noted. “If you want to achieve financial freedom, I would not recommend going down the documentary path. But for the majority of documentary filmmakers, it’s passion, following their curiosity.”

Curious about Airstream? Gather a group of 49 or more friends now, or wait until this fall when the movie makes its official debut at the Newport Beach festival. And then? The producers, of course, hope for a theatrical release, followed by a run on one of the digital platforms such as Netflix or Amazon, and by fans buying copies for their film libraries, perhaps even to view yet again in some wilderness location while camping in their Airstream trailers.

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