At Rooftop, our events are more than just screenings: they’re interactions between the film, the filmmakers, the audience, the venue, and the local community. In 2006, when we screened Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer’s documentary “Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea,” a film about the man-made ecological disaster turned weirdo-haven, the screening was held on the roof of the Old American Can Factory, a former industrial complex turned artists-haven, located just a few blocks from the direly polluted Gowanus Canal.
The wildly entertaining and sneakily informative film was the starting point for a lively conversation between the filmmakers and audience, in which we wondered if environmental disasters weren’t sometimes good for a community. Certainly, as the film shows, for the eccentric people who live near the Salton Sea, the fact that this once glorious resort town is now essentially in ruins allows them to live cheaply and happily while waving to tourists in the nude, building a colorful concrete prayer mountain, and doing all sorts of bizarre and wonderful things they couldn’t do elsewhere, say, in the wealthy nearby city of Palm Springs. (Visit plaguesandpleasures.com and click on people to read more about the above-mentioned kooky characters.) Similarly, the 200 artists who call the OA Can Factory home (including Rooftop Films) couldn’t carry on our work if the canal was cleaned and the industrial buildings replaced with luxury condos.
Of course, we wouldn’t advocate for the toxic pollution of all waterways, but “Plagues and Pleasures,” Rooftop Films, and our INDUSTRIANCETM screening series (co-presented with XO Projects Inc.) all point to the importance of considering the local inhabitants when advocating environmental cleanup. We all want healthy people and a sustainable planet, but when you “improve” a neighborhood, what happens to the people who were there when it was “deteriorated”?
It’s great to see that long since completing “Plagues and Pleasures,” and while hard at work on a documentary about Fishbone, Chris and Jeff are still involved with the Salton Sea community. Their latest newsletter mentions that Congress just overrode a presidential veto of an environmental study, which should be good news. On the sad side, a number of people in the film have since passed away.
If you haven’t already seen “Plagues and Pleasures,” the filmmakers are still touring it around the world so look on their site for a screening in your area. The film is also for sale in a new tricked-out DVD edition (along with a variety of other curious Salton Sea tchotchkees).