Chicago filmmakers treat us to Vanlife at its Lowest & Best


Chicago filmmakers, Andrew Morgan and co-director Nick Nummerdor set out to make a film about the reclusive, and enigmatic American automotive subculture known as “vanning.’ Welcome to Sleeze Lake!

It’s 1977 and the idealistic message of the hippie counter-culture has played a decade long game of telephone with America’s youth. Still searching for freedom and community in a post Vietnam world, groups of young people took to the open roads in shag-carpeted custom vans. They called themselves “vanners” and their culture was a strange cocktail of irreverence and hedonism.

On the south side of Chicago, the van proved the perfect escape vehicle from the smog of the steel mills and refineries. It was here that a van club called Midwest Vans Ltd. was born. On Memorial Day weekend in 1977, these blue collar outcasts set out to build their own personal utopia, free of rules and restrictions. They erected a ramshackle resort town around a small pond and called it “Sleeze Lake”. When over 20,000 people showed up to the party, all bets were off! Set among the foggy memories and ephemera of a subculture lost to time, Sleeze Lake tells the story of Midwest Vans LTD and the biggest party you’ve never heard of.

Chicago filmmakers, Andrew Morgan and Nick Nummerdor, set out to make a film about the reclusive, and enigmatic American automotive subculture known as “vanning.’” They wanted to know where all the bubble windowed, shag carpeted boogie vans came from. What they got in return was a peak behind the curtain at an overlooked group of colorful characters and the gonzo world they have created for themselves.


It was during the making of that film ( Vannin’ – 2013) that they kept hearing rumblings of a mythic van party by the name of “Sleeze Lake.” They dug through countless photo albums, ephemera, and their character’s own big fish stories in an attempt to create a film that distills the unique culture of vanning in the 1970’s.


As filmmakers who love to explore forgotten Americana, the chance to tell this story was irresistible. They wanted to share the creativity and do-it-yourself spirit of a forgotten subculture while also telling a story of youth in a bygone era. As everything in the world becomes more connected, it’s sometimes important to look back at a time when people could do their own thing and be who they wanted to be without the whole world watching; even just for one weekend.

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Mix one part the writings of Hunter S. Thompson, one part Woodstock’s brown acid, add a dash of irreverence, and muddle it in a bit of hedonism and out comes something akin to Sleeze Lake. They take great pleasure in presenting this story from a long buried volume in the library of Americana.


Q: How did you develop the visual style of the film?

A: The aesthetics of the film were something we came to about halfway into the editing process. Sleeze Lake is mainly an archival documentary and we were looking for a way to treat the archival material that made it feel a bit more alive and akin to the subject matter. Initially it was the very typical process of zooming and panning on photographs that’s common in docs. Eventually we started looking at the archival material in front of us, such as van event fliers, and realized there was a really great do-it-yourself aspect to a lot of it; whether it be photocopied collages or hand drawn graphics. We decided to try to mirror this in the materials from our subjects personal history presented in the film. We wanted it to play out like you were viewing someone’s scrapbook come to life. Every photograph and shred of 8mm you see in the film came from the archives of Midwest Vans Ltd.’s members, right down to the flash frames and film grain.

Q: What are your hopes for the film moving forward?

A: Our main goal is to get as many people to see the film as possible and to keep the vannin movement & spirit alive. The original vanners are generally seniors now and they are losing their friends and culture as time passes. As vanners have come and gone, some manners have raised their kids, retired, and are now coming back to their old clubs and truck-ins. There has been a small revival with the use of social media and facebook groups. The spirit of the movement is exciting to younger people looking for nostalgia, parties, and freedom. The custom boogie van is slowly becoming cool again with new media, drivers, and van clubs popping up across the world. We are hoping we can play the film all over North America and invite banners of all ages to the theater to have a good time together.

The Filmmakers:
Little Cabin Films is a creative collaboration between two lifelong friends: Nick Nummerdor and Andrew Morgan. Nick and Andrew have been creating films together since their high school days in West Michigan.


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