Jonny Mars’ first-ever live Cowboys game experience dominated five years of his life. The Austin actor and former Dallas resident, who cheered for America’s Team for years while working as a bartender, had never seen a game in person at Texas Stadium.
“I had a bit that I always did, about how I never wanted to go to [a Cowboys game]” says the 36-year-old Mars says, who preferred the comforts of TV and instant replay. “But a friend and I made a bet. He said, ‘Look, you’re just not doing it right. You’ve got to go to the game, and you’ve got to tailgate. I’ll tell you what, I’ll get tickets. If you have a good time, you’ve got to pay for it.'”
That’s how Mars met Stan “Tiger” Shults and Cy Ditmore, the two godfathers of Gate 6.
Shults–who not only has a daughter named “Landry Meredith” but a wife who agreed to name their daughter Landry Meredith–leads the weekly pep rally, and Ditmore tows the $12,000 grilling trailer.
The minute Mars encountered them, he not only felt like he’d discovered a unique subculture and family, but he realized the family might be breaking up.
“I knew that the stadium was going away, and these guys didn’t want to necessarily talk about it,” Mars says. “I was standing there, and all the hairs stood up on my body and I knew I had to tell this story. These guys had done the same thing for almost 25 years, and it was gonna end, and they were gonna have to regroup and figure out how to start it up again.”
Mars began filming this family of fans (Schults called the director “this weird little stalker”) and ended up with America’s Parking Lot, a documentary about the last days of the Gate 6 tailgate crew at Cowboys Stadium in Irving.
The football as religion/family comparison may be a little well-worn, but as we see the passion of the tailgaters in America’s Parking Lot–and then the impending doom of personal seat licenses and new parking rules–the metaphor holds up. You can’t really stop loving your family even when they drive you crazy, and you can’t stop being a Cowboys fan even when it feels like team ownership is driving you away.
“Coming from Dallas, you just knew there was this emotion in the air about the loss of the stadium and what the Cowboys mean to the town,” Mars says. “That’s ultimately what I was trying to capture. It’s like a love letter to a fan in a way, but I’ve never seen any fans like this before.”
The movie is a raucous experience, as was its first SXSW screening, in which Tiger gave the filmgoers a taste of the Gate 6 experience:
The film, which made its world premiere at SXSW, will be screened at the Dallas International Film Festival in April.