John Thornton Caldwell, a distinguished professor emeritus in the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television’s cinema and media studies program, has won the best experimental documentary film prize from the 2020 DOC LA — Los Angeles Documentary Film Festival, which ran Nov. 11–15.
Caldwell’s feature-length film, “Land Hacks (Masculine Media Anxiety Disorder),” digs through contested rural landscapes as a way of unpacking the mutual contempt between red states and blue states in the culture wars. The project builds on six years of ethnographic fieldwork into the extractive economies of “law and order” Kern County, which proudly promotes itself as the “Texas of California.” The film offers a fitting but unorthodox reflection on the rural vs. urban elite quagmire and the cross cultural face-off that will continue to fester far beyond the Trump-era that fueled its growth.
The film, which previously screened in Melbourne, Australia; Cologne, Germany; Boston; and New York, provides either a therapeutic intervention or an off-the-road user’s guide for surviving the fallout from the 2020 presidential election.
Caldwell is the creator and author of numerous media projects, articles and books, including the film “Rancho California (por favor),” which premiered at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, and the books “Televisuality: Style, Crisis, and Authority in American Television,” “Production Culture: Industrial Reflexivity and Critical Practice in Film and Television” and the forthcoming “Specworld.”
The annual DOC LA — Los Angeles Documentary Film Festival is sponsored and programmed by the Parajanov-Vartanov Institute, which was founded in 2010 to honor the legacy of Armenian filmmakers Sergei Parajanov and Mikhail Vartanov.
Watch the film’s trailer, and a Q&A with Caldwell.