The rusting relic of a failed 1960s development boom, the Salton Sea is a barren Californian landscape often seen as a symbol of the failure of the American Dream. First-time director Alma Har'el revisits this poetically fruitful terrain in her distinctive documentary Bombay Beach, and finds there a motley cast including a bipolar seven-year-old, a lovelorn high school football star, and an octogenarian poet-prophet. Together they make up a triptych of American manhood in its decisive moments, populating the Salton Sea's land of thwarted opportunity.
True to her roots as a photographer, video artist, and music video director, Har'el crafts here an adamantly atypical and artistically innovative film—a dreamlike poem that sets the personal stories of these distinctive yet familiar characters to a stylized amalgam of observational documentary and choreographed dance, with music by Beirut and Bob Dylan, all cast against the atmospheric scenery of the titular ghost town. The result is a moving and surreal documentary experience—an evocative, symbolic portrait of rural America and its inhabitants.
Bombay Beach was named World Documentary Competition Award Winner, and will have two additional screenings on Sunday, May 1. Learn more.