Dear Comrade is a feature length, experimental essay film (approximately 55 minutes, shot in digital video) inspired by a significant moment in California’s ‘utopian’ history: the creation of Llano del Rio, one of California’s most successful secular cooperative colonies. The community was founded by renowned socialist Job Harriman in 1914 and after 4 extraordinary years in the Mojave desert of California, only 75 miles from Los Angeles, colonists moved to New Llano in central Louisiana and flourished until 1937.
Dear Comrade documents this collective enterprise through a tour of the California ruins, photos and recollections of local historians and residents, voices of former colonists, and scholars of California history. However, the primary focus of the film resides not so much in the past as in the musings, questions, courage, frustrations, fantasies, and labors of many before and after Llano who have assumed comparable struggles –- to forego economic and political security to craft an alternative society. The filmmaker stages surreal re-enactments of life at Llano performed by reunited members of a 1970s collective to which she belonged, and casts her elderly aunt, a 1950s borscht belt communitarian as a former Llano colonist. We enter the plot of a 1888 "utopian" novel that inspired Llano founders, and meet a timeless nomad who roams through the universes of the film as a displaced but hopeful narrator.
Through the intersection of stories, a seemingly traditional documentary film morphs into a montage of parallel universes, historical re-enactments, clownery, political commentary, and a palpable desire -- failings and disappointments notwithstanding -- to give idealism and cooperation another try.