‘Freeload’ travels the rails with modern-day hobos and nomads
Director Daniel Skaggs first screened his documentary about people who hop freight trains to travel — without much more than the clothes they’re wearing — during Thin Line, the yearly documentary film and music festival in Denton.
Skaggs returns to Denton for an encore screening at 10 p.m. Sunday at Oak Street Drafthouse & Cocktail Parlor, 308 E. Oak St.
In the summer of 2011, armed with HD cameras and audio recorders, Skaggs hopped a freight train out of Missoula, Mont. As a partner in Highway Goat Productions, he raised $14,000 through crowdfunding websites IndieGoGo and Kickstarter.
Freeload has screened at six film festivals, including Thin Line, Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, Independent Film Festival of Boston and Queens World Film Festival, where it won Best Feature Documentary.
Skaggs answered some questions about the documentary.
— Lucinda Breeding
Denton Time: Does the documentary attempt to justify the 21st-century freight train riders? The documentary is titled Freeload.
Skaggs: Freeload does not try to justify modern train riders in any way. It is a portrait film about a handful of young riders that offers the audience an intimate view of the day-to-day struggle. Life on the road is gritty and unpredictable. We came up with the title before we ever started to shoot the film. The title stuck, and we didn’t want to change it.
What drew you to this story, and these people?
I had been traveling and riding trains for nearly a decade. Over time, I developed an obsession with freight trains and the people that ride them. I’m what they call a “foamer.” (Google that one.) I spent weeks and months at a time traversing the country with some very compelling characters. We swapped tales of madness under bridges and in train yards.
The art of storytelling is a crucial element to this nomadic lifestyle. I knew that someday I wanted to give these people a chance to tell their stories to a larger audience. Finally, that day came.
[NOTE: A foamer is a serious railroad buff who might take part in “trainspotting,” a hobby of recording sightings of different trains and freight, and taking risks to photograph trains.]
In making this documentary, did you gain any insight into poverty? Do you think your subjects chose to be broke?
Making Freeload opened my eyes even more on the disconnect between the rich and poor. People that live in poverty understand the daily struggles that most of us encounter. I believe that poverty was created by the wealthy to control every aspect of society. It’s a rich man’s world. I think the guys and gals in Freeload do choose to be broke. They would be doing the same thing if they had money, just with more class.
Any estimates on how many freight train riders are moving about the country?
This is always a tough question. I would say between 500 to 1,000 but I don’t really know.
Ignorant question: Are the U.S. railways pretty much encapsulated by the U.S. geography, or do they cross over into Canada and South America?
That is not an ignorant question at all. Canada, America and Mexico have connecting railroads. Freight trains cross the border every day in both directions. North America has a massive network of railways traveling in every direction. I have been studying railroad logistics for over a decade.
Why bring Freeload back to Denton?
I fell in love with Denton. It is a very special place. I also became friends with the guys down at the Oak Street Draft House. I feel honored to rescreen Freeload in your beautiful city.