Arts & Entertainment

Craiglist Joe: Film documents a month living off internet altruism

Joe Garner, right, met Justin Jahnke, left, in Chicago because he was giving out free fitness lessons on Craigslist.
Joe Garner, right, met Justin Jahnke, left, in Chicago because he was giving out free fitness lessons on Craigslist.
Courtesy of Joe Garner

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Could you leave behind everything and everyone you know and survive entirely off Craigslist for a month? Joe Garner says he could – and he did.

Two years ago, in the middle of the recession, Joe took a cross-country road trip to find out how. The film "Craigslist Joe" documents that journey.

“Craigslist Joe” made its theatrical debut last month. Audiences also saw the film this week in Los Angeles as part of Social Media Week .

Garner lives in Los Angeles and works in the film industry. He said he felt cut off from the rest of the world and wanted an escape from his regular life.

“I wanted to see, during tough times, are people coming together to help each other? Has technology and social media kind of replaced face-to-face genuine interaction? I was curious.”

In 2009, then 29-year-old Garner posted an ad on Craigslist for a camera man to help film his trip. Kevin Flint took the job for $1,000 and meal stipends along the way.

Well, it's not entirely true that Garner bought everything off Craigslist. The filmmaker did head out with a handful of items: a passport, a toothbrush, a lap top, a wireless internet access card and a new cell phone with no contacts.

But Garner wasn’t just asking for free handouts.

“I was able to volunteer a lot. It wasn’t like…take me out to a nice restaurant," he said. "It’s like hey, if you’re making pasta, and you have a little extra...or if I can sleep on your couch for the night, or if you’re driving up to Portland anyway, I don’t have any cash, but I could drive the whole way...I’m not saying let’s get rid of money in our society, but I think there is a value of bartering. If we can all take care of each other a little bit, we can make big differences."

Lessons learned?

“I learned there are a lot of nice and generous people out there," said Garner. "A lot of times people want to do the right thing. A lot of times, we’re just so busy, so caught up in our own lives and our own responsibilities that we might not make that a priority. But I found in my experience, (people) were overwhelmingly positive and people really took a chance on me.”

Though his adventure in filming the Craigslist movie is over, Garner said the experience has changed how he approaches everyday life.

“It doesn’t have to be the end. You don’t have to put your life on hold and go live off a website," he said. "It’s an attitude. It’s a mindset. It’s keeping that open space and belief in people and going to volunteer your time. You can do that in your everyday life. Really trying to keep that in mind is what’s kept me connected since then.”

And Garner might have learned an extra lesson on his journey: schmoozing on the job never hurts.

The producer of Garner’s film is comedian Zach Galifianakis. They met while Galifianakis was shooting the movie “The Hangover” in Las Vegas. Garner worked as an assistant to the director of the movie.