Towns without pity: "California Company Town" finds ghost cities in our midst.

SFIFF52 Blogs: Cataloguing California

Jennifer Preissel May 4, 2009

A recording of a school choir’s last performance before the Eagle Mountain mine closes and the town is abandoned. A hulking prison—California’s largest—dominates the failed social experiment of California City. An oil refinery belches pollutants over Richmond, the state’s murder capital. These are some of the raw materials that form Lee Anne Schmitt’s California Company Town. In blending the sights and sounds of 14 specific locales, Schmitt attempts to create a catalogue of the state’s economically depressed towns, industrial wastelands and failed utopian communities. But, she says, "The film is less about individual histories of towns—any place in the state could be in the film. We all live in company towns." Of her attempt to question why and how certain communities fail, Schmitt says, "I think of this as an archive. And this is, as all archives are, a subjective and flawed way of looking at history." Silicon Valley—the thriving company town of today’s global economy—is provocatively featured as the caboose to Schmitt’s series of cities. When asked if her inclusion of the Google campus within an archive of failed communities is meant to foretell Silicon Valley’s ultimate demise, Schmitt demurred. "I never answer that question. Silicon Valley is the place I least like to talk about. Because it is not really a place—it’s an idea of a place laid upon other places with their own pasts. Some people find the footage atrocious, some find it positive. I guess that depends on your point of view."
This post originally appeared in Scoop du Jour, May 4.