Below sea level (2008)


Cast: the Slab City community


Director: Gianfranco Rosi


Synopsis: In the heart of a Californian desert, far from everything, lies Slab City, a camp without water, without electricity and without rules where the down-on-their luck hobos are to be found. All of them came here for a different reason but they all strive for the one and same thing: peacefulness.




Recipient of the Horizons and Documentary Award at the 2008 Venice Film Festival, Gianfranco Rosi’s first feature film tells the story of a community on the margins of society. It will be the first in a series of documentaries, the latest of which, Notturno, will premiere at the International Film Festival of La Roche-sur-Yon this Saturday, October 17th.


Below sea level is more than just a movie: it’s an ode to freedom, an invitation to escapism, a refusal to conformism.

Gianfranco Rosi lived in this community of marginalized people for 3 years in order to capture, without judgment, some snippets of life: some discussions, a funeral, a song…

It emerges from this daily life a feeling of absolute peace, where nothing matters and where time seems to stand still.


We meet the Slab City’s residents, each designated by a unique nickname that aims to make a clean sweep of the past. All of them have a touching story and one quickly becomes attached to them: one feels like a part of their community. The dialogues are at the same time extremely funny, absurd and emotional. It’s a teeter-totter of laughter and tears.


However, their way of life is not a bed of roses either. Gianfranco Rosi crudely depicts the extreme poverty affecting these people, surrounded by flies and motorhome wrecks.

This poetry-filled movie mixing joy, tenderness and sadness will get you under its spell.

But it may also be seen as a philosophical study of what is missing in our social organization by showing other lifestyle possibilities. It offers another alternative to the traditional way of life, whether you like it or not and produces a window on marginal lives.


Below sea level is a real slap in the face of today’s consumerism and materialism. It will pull at your heartstrings and will show you what your life could be.


A film to be consumed without moderation!