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52nd San Francisco International Film Festival at PFA

Thursday, April 30, 2009
8:35 p.m. California Company Town
Lee Anne Schmitt (U.S., 2008)

Filming over a period of five years, from 2003 to 2008, Lee Anne Schmitt documents the devastation and desolation of California’s forgotten towns of promise and industry in a languid, almost heartbreaking style that recalls the landscapes and grit of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. Set against California’s beautifully diverse yet unforgiving terrain, California Company Town shows the blight of industry and the failures of utopian naiveté among landscapes that appear ominously disinterested in our triumphs and tragedies, desires and needs. From the fogs of Scotia, a company lumber town behind northern California’s “redwood curtain,” to the parched horizons of the Salton Sea and the blandness of Silicon Valley, we witness bleak worlds rarely seen by Bay Area denizens or the urbanites of L.A. Images of sweeping horizons or hulking factories are interspersed with poignant commentary and a sparse use of archival sound recordings and footage. Interwoven with the voices of Ronald Reagan and César Chávez, we see giant redwoods fall or the stoic faces of Italian workers, striking laborers, captains of industry, and Japanese Americans interred at Manzanar. Recalling this recent past, we slowly realize that we are seeing the towns anew, having never really known them. This leaves us feeling all the more haunted by their current desolate and decrepit state. In this young and fragile experiment we call America, we stand condemned of far-reaching abuses issuing from the promises of progress.

—Sean F. Diggins

• Photographed by Schmitt. (76 mins)