Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea

With Chris Metzler In Person

Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea
California dreaming meets good old American eccentricity and ecological emergency in the story of the Salton Sea -- or, as narrator John Waters puts it in this alarming yet highly entertaining documentary, "utopia and the apocalypse meet to dance a dirty tango."

In little more than 70 minutes of "Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea," directors Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer cover the century-long history of the manmade body of water. Traveling its periphery, interviewing the nonconformists who populate its beachfront communities, the filmmakers provide vivid evidence -- eerie, wacky, poignant -- of an idea that won't quite die. Desert-tinged lounge instrumentals by Friends of Dean Martinez provide fitting accompaniment to the weird saga, a selection at the Palm Springs and Santa Barbara film festivals.

The Salton Sea represents a fascinating chapter in Southern California's ongoing battles over water. Essentially a giant puddle, its only inflow is agricultural run-off from the Imperial Valley, valuable water that has been sold out from under it in deals with more powerful coastal towns. Fifty miles south of Palm Springs and once its rival as a magnet for tourists, the wealthy and glamorous, the "California Riviera" was, during its heyday in the 1950s and '60s, a sportsfishing, waterskiing paradise in the middle of the desert. Old promo films and photos illustrate its retro glory.

A series of devastating floods ended all that. The battered remnants of marinas and yacht clubs testify to better times, and street signs in the middle of empty stretches of sand recall developers' visions that never materialized. Warm temperatures and the water's naturally high salinity create an endless chain in which algae thrive, fish fight for oxygen and die in the millions. Although the water is not toxic or polluted, its smell is hardly an enticement.

Some longtime residents are resigned to the sea's slow death; others are fighting to save it, though they lost one of its greatest champions when Sonny Bono died. In the balance is the fate of millions of wintering birds for whom it has become a key habitat -- not to mention such endangered species as elderly nudists, Hungarian freedom fighters and the self-taught artist building a Christian-themed Salvation Mountain from mud and donated paint. (S. Linden, Hollywood Reporter)

Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea

Fri September 14, 2007, 7:00 only, Muenzinger Auditorium

US, 2004, English, Color, 73 min, unrated, DV-Cam, 1.85:1 • official site



10 films for $60 with punch card
$9 general admission. $7 w/UCB student ID, $7 for senior citizens
$1 discount to anyone with a bike helmet
Free on your birthday! CU Cinema Studies students get in free.


Pay lot 360 (now only $1/hour!), across from the buffalo statue and next to the Duane Physics tower, is closest to Muenzinger. Free parking can be found after 5pm at the meters along Colorado Ave east of Folsom stadium and along University Ave west of Macky.


Park elsewhere and catch the HOP to campus

International Film Series

(Originally called The University Film Commission)
Established 1941 by James Sandoe.

First Person Cinema

(Originally called The Experimental Cinema Group)
Established 1955 by Carla Selby, Gladney Oakley, Bruce Conner and Stan Brakhage.

C.U. Film Program

(AKA The Rocky Mountain Film Center)
First offered degrees in filmmaking and critical studies in 1989 under the guidance of Virgil Grillo.

Celebrating Stan

Created by Suranjan Ganguly in 2003.

C.U. Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Established 2017 by Chair Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz.

Thank you, sponsors!
Boulder International Film Festival
Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Looking for a gift for a friend?
Buy a Frequent Patron Punch Card for $60 at any IFS show. With the punch card you can see ten films (a value of $90).

Cox & Kjølseth
: Filmmaker Alex Cox & Pablo Kjølseth discuss film topics from their own unique perspectives.

: Pablo and Ana share Zoom-based briefs on what's currently playing at IFS

Search IFS schedules

Index of visiting artists

Wed Sep 27, 2023

Thank You for Smoking

At Muenzinger Auditorium

Sat Oct 28, 2023


At Muenzinger Auditorium

more on 35mm...