California Company Town is an unusual creature in the world of modern documentary film, particularly among the more politically oriented of the species. It is shot on 16mm, has no characters, no interviews, and consists of so many still shots that it most closely resembles experimental landscape films, such as those of Peter Hutton. The film so accurately depicts many decades of past Americas and stitches together so many pieces of history that it feels like a bit of a throwback itself, steeped in nostalgia, and with the pace and sound of a different era. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but an indication of the film’s penchant for Americana—odd, a little out-of-date, and all the better for it.
In this deceptively simple film essay, director Lee Ann Schmitt guides the audience through the folk histories of 23 towns that were once filled with the promise of industry and now languish after its departure, shockingly overgrown, rusted, used up, and left behind. Click here to read the rest of Farihah Zaman’s review of California Company Town.