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Darwin Review (Matt Hodgson)

Darwin (2011)

Directed by Nick Brandestini

Darwin starts a run at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto starting today, August 24th.

If life’s getting you down and the mistakes seem to be piling up like unpaid bills, you may feel like leaving civilization in the dust. Pack your bags and grab your closest loved ones, but don’t fret, even though you may feel like traveling to the end of the world, you only need to go to Death Valley in California to leave the world behind, specifically, a town with a population of 35: Darwin.

The documentary film Darwin depicts life in the small town of the same name. The population is 35, the only job is at the post office, which is presumably government funded, and the sense of community is strong. So far nothing seems particularly amiss or entertaining about the small town, but it’s only after learning about the denizens of Darwin that the story starts to take shape. Although some of the residents stumble with their words and make some claims that could be interpreted as uneducated, they manage to surprise in other ways, while sometimes hiding truly remarkable talents. Any viewer with a prejudice of  what ‘small town folk’ are like will quickly find themselves questioning this view. Many of the residents have made mistakes in throughout their lives, but most now display an understanding of what it is to be human that philosophers of psychologists should be jealous of. Add to this remarkable talents that could have made some of the residents famous in more populated areas, and it becomes hard not to yearn for a few years out in the desert with these amazing people. Some problems that face America as a whole are also present in Darwin, and many of the stories the residents tell are nothing short of heartbreaking, but it is the spirit of the entire community that makes Darwin feel like an ignored diamond in the rough.

On the filmmaking side of things, Brandestini, the documentarian, fills the needs of any good doc: a trip to somewhere inaccessible to most of us, but also the telling of an entertaining story in the process. I doubt that many people who watch this film will ever set foot in Darwin at some point in their lives, but it doesn’t matter as the doc does a wonderful job of transporting us to the quiet, dusty landscape for an entire 90 minutes. It’s hard to leave the residents of Darwin behind once the credits begin to roll. I found myself with so many questions about their futures and for that matter, about mine. We only get one chance at this game called life, but at least it’s comforting to know that if I have a few bad turns, there is a community that will accept me for who I am, and I can all but leave the world behind and take up residence in the little town of Darwin.

Darwin starts a run at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto starting today, August 24th.

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