Only in America could a man-made environmental catastrophe be lamented for its failure to develop into an economic and recreational boon. Yet, such is just one of the paradoxes posed by Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea, a hit documentary on the national film festival circuit over the past several years that finally makes its way to the Triangle for a one-time screening Sunday, Oct. 14, at 7 p.m. at the Open Eye Café in Carrboro. Co-director Chris Metzler will attend—together with other screenings the rest of the week in Winston-Salem, Wilmington and Greensboro—to answer questions about this hilarious, provocative and poignant portrait of the American Dream run aground.
Born of an irrigation disaster and resultant flooding from the Colorado River during the early 20th century, Salton Sea is the largest lake in California. And, during its halcyon days of the 1950 and '60s, the area became such a fishing and tourist attraction that it was hailed as the "California Riviera" and a potential sister city to nearby Palm Springs.
However, volatile flooding, pollution and the increasing salinity of the lake—which leads to massive annual fish and bird kills—generated a confluence of circumstances that drove away tourists and investors alike, leaving the communities surrounding the lake as veritable ghost towns populated by the eccentric and/or impoverished few. They include, among others, ex-Hungarian revolutionaries, gang-bangers from L.A., an elderly nudist, and religious zealot Leonard Knight and his man-made Salvation Mountain—also seen briefly in Sean Penn's upcoming Into the Wild.
Plagues & Pleasures, narrated by none other than John Waters, examines the sad history of the sea and its steadfast champions, some of whom persistently believe another economic heyday is just around the corner, along with a cautionary tale about the consequences of tampering with Mother Nature.