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  • TBC
  • Documentary
  • 2011




This arresting documentary directed by Nick Brandestini chronicles the diverse lives and fortunes of the people that live in one of the tiniest, most isolated towns in America.


Darwin is an involved, surprisingly funny film about the 35 inhabitants of Darwin, a tiny former mining town in Californias Death Valley. Its director, Nick Brandestini knows when to guide his documentary into interesting territory and when to simply observe.

Far from being populated by uneducated, insular small-town folk, Darwin is home to artists, pseudo-hippies, intellectuals and anarchists who all despise bigotry. In electing to focus on five different people the film feels very focused and succinct; this group comprise people who best outline the reasons for living in Darwin - the escape from troubled pasts, the possibility of redemption and the sense of community.

Even though Brandestini allows his subjects to relay their tales in their own words, the film is edited such that both humour and emotion are brought to the fore. The story of a young transsexual man, Ryal (born a woman and undergoing hormone therapy), unfolds slowly both through his own testimony, that of his partner Penny (a pagan) and his parents Hank and Connie. It is their casual (if apparently gradual) acceptance of their son that becomes one of the films emotional highlights and it is teased out with expert grace by the crew.

Most amusing however is Susan, the irreverent, and by her own admission rather crotchety, postmaster. Her sarcastic tales of squabbling at the water-board meetings (of which she was the chair) provide the backdrop for Brandestini to show audiences that even the tiny microcosm of society in Darwin cannot escape bureaucracy or politics.

The bleak landscape is captured through effective cinematography and a slightly grainy, sun-bleached colour palette, while Canadian guitarist Michael Brooks fantastically spectral score underlines this sense of isolation.

In a nutshell

Refusing to patronise the participants of his film, Brandestini's use of a chilling score, beautiful photography and a keen sense of balance makes Darwin a fascinating and charming film.

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