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Friday, August 12, 2011
Darwin is a documentary feature about an isolated community at the end of a weathered road in Death Valley, California. Propelled from society by tragic turns, the people of Darwin (population 35) must now find ways to coexist in a place without a government, a church, jobs, or children. The film tells the story of a uniquely American place and yet a place that is unique even within America.
Darwin (2011) | Review
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Darwin wasn't always this way. It reached a high of 3500 inhabitants late in the Nineteenth Century. It had another peak period in the mid Twentieth Century. Since the mine closed in the 1970s Darwin has seen all the commerce evaporate into the desert heat. There is also little government presence, except for the Post Office and welfare and disability checks. The town once had a reputation for lawlessness and violence. The town we see in the film is sedate, but there are hints at times that there are still some bad elements present.
Filmmaker Nick Brandestini developed the project after seeing some of the ghost towns in the Mojave Desert. He was interested in discovering what it was like to live in such a place. As he made trips to Darwin to film interviews he found a welcome. From the interviews we see, it is clear Brandestini established trust with the residents. Some of them are very open talking about their pasts.
One resident says that what makes Darwin such a good place is that people only judge "who you are today." Here is a place where the past need not be a hindrance. Perhaps because so many people have things in their lives they would like to put behind them, they are willing to allow others the same treatment.
But that doesn't mean that Darwin is a utopia. In our visits with the denizens we hear of drug problems. We observe grief. We see people who struggle with who they are. In short we see people very like us, even in their eccentricities.
The film's pace reflects the life in Darwin. This is not a film that has every moment packed with action. We get to spend some time seeing the beauty the desert holds. We get to share in the leisurely life of being in the middle of nowhere.
I'm not anxious to move to Darwin, but the film has allowed me to see the way that some people find a freedom from the demons that had threatened their happiness before they came here.
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