Ely is the largest city and county seat of White Pine County, Nevada, United States, it’s East of Reno and North of Las Vegas and slightly West of the Great Basin National Park.
In director Chivas DeVinck’s documentary The Great Basin, we meet some of the people living and working in Ely, from retirees to prostitutes to Native Americans, we see them all.
We begin things in the dark however, as in total blackness, whilst a tour guide describes the caves we are in, the sorts of animals that live down there, how they’ve adapted. Then we emerge into the light to start The Great Basin.
One of the largest subjects is the continued growth of Las Vegas and a potential water pipeline the city wants to build to bring it water because it’s running out. This is, as you’d probably expect, not welcomed by the people of Ely because it would take their water away.
This is also all happening in early 2020 just as China begins shutting shop because of the Coronavirus.
We see church-goers visit the prostitutes at the local brothel, they bring chocolates and pamphlets and offer to pray for them, though only one appears and she appears completely indifferent to their offerings…other than the chocolates.
There’s a sheep farmer who speaks fluently to his Peruvian helpers and has a Chinese wife who is ‘trapped’ in China as she was there when the Coronavirus outbreak happened and was unable to get a flight home.
DeVinck fills The Great Basin with fabulous, lingering shots of the landscape which is mostly barren and cold, this is home to the “Loneliest Road in America” after all.
However, there’s no one central theme to the documentary, there’s nothing that really holds it all together. Instead we flit from one person to the next, one life to the next, one view to the next and sometimes they overlap but often they are poles apart.
I would have loved to know more about the fight to stop Vegas taking the area’s water for example, but it just isn’t there, instead we have shots of a couple repeating a mantra in a sort of prayer. This is The School Of The Natural Order.
What DeVinck does is make me question what a documentary is, or should be. Is it something that enhances your knowledge on a subject you either knew nothing about to start with or had an inkling about? Is it a deep-dive into that subject?
Or, as is the case with The Great Basin, is it a snapshot of people’s lives, a light touch encompassing as much as possible in a limited time, forcing you to pick-up the bits that interest you the most and discover more?
If it’s the latter than The Great Basin is definitely for you, if it’s the former, I’d say it probably isn’t.
14th November 2022
THE QUICK SELL
The Great Basin is a documentary feature that builds a complex panorama of rural Nevada, in the Western United States, through a tapestry of characters who work, live, and play there.
CAST & CREW