Victoria, the feature-length documentary on the unfinished project of California City by female directors Sofie Benoot, Isabelle Tollenaere and Liesbeth De Ceulaer, is selected for this year’s Forum programme at the Berlinale. Producer is Caviar, while Filmotor is handling international sales.

California City was a pre-designed city, originally intended to mirror Los Angeles in size and population, but never got completed. Some 60 years ago, an eccentric developer created California City in the Mojave Desert with a dream wherein he would raise a city similar to LA from the desert sand. Thousands of streets with water and electricity infrastructure were carved into the landscape and each of them was given a name. The city was ready to welcome hundreds of thousands of residents, but the anticipated arrivals never came.

It started with an anecdote; a story picked up somewhere… About a city in a desert which hadn’t yet fulfilled its promise to become the third largest city in California. Driven by curiosity about this unfinished place, the three filmmakers ended up there together and found themselves going back regularly over four years… In search of what their film might become, in this place always coming into being. “We met countless people,” they explain. “People who started over; seekers of gold and fortune.”

At the centre of Victoria stands Lashay T. Warren, who left behind his turbulent past in LA to make a fresh start within this grid of thousands of crumbling streets. He reports about his encounter with his new and unfamiliar home in a diary, just like the early pioneers did when they entered a foreign desert. Sharp-witted and playful, the diary excerpts show his wonder at the new desert surroundings, his efforts to obtain his high school diploma at the age of 26, and his absurd and endless job maintaining the disappearing streets of California City.

The three directors describe California City as a place that “captures the imagination. A place that invites you to write a new story. We thought up Victoria there, a film where Lashay’s reality and imagination as well as our own imagination could meet in an unconstrained way.”

On a more personal note, the diary excerpts also reveal Lashay’s reflections on his past and show how Los Angeles – despite the distance – still remains a looming, dark presence.

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