Since the Civil War, workers of all stripes have been drawn west by the promise of a new American dream: families buoyed by stable jobs and steady paychecks in corporate communities. It was a vision of everyday life fortified by capitalist ideals, with lumber, mining, oil and agricultural companies controlling not just the factories but the land, resources and social infrastructure. Your boss owned your house—and if you were fired, eviction would follow. But documentarian Lee Anne Schmitt reveals the flip side of that boom mentality, traveling across California to capture the ghostly, abandoned monuments to a business philosophy that apparently ran out of steam overnight. These sites are grotesque, frozen-in-time postcards of a future that never was.
Schmitt journeys to these abandoned cities, deserted Japanese internment camps and shuttered factories—some still eerily stocked with pallets of neatly cut lumber. The filmmaker weaves those images together with the archival footage of the West’s postfrontier boom years, already sensing the end in the beginning. Priorities were profits, not people; when trees disappeared and technology made it possible to run an unmanned oil field, the workers were kicked out and the towns imploded. A streamlined narration track details the archaeological record of these desolate, drained locales. But Schmitt wisely allows the images to speak loudest—a silent, sobering portrait of what happens after the well dries up.—S. James Snyder
Opens Fri; Anthology. Find showtimes