by Ben Guez and Sasha Kulak
Amid the ruins of an abandoned California mercury-mining town, “Quicksilver Chronicles” follows the explosive and brilliant personality of writer Kate Woods, whose mariachi music career ended in a car accident. While talking astrophysics and politics with her brother and partying with her photographer ex-boyfriend, Kate swings between independence and loneliness. The three garrulous companions navigate daily existence in rural isolation, connecting through TV to the country’s changing political climate. The film observes them within the context of their home in New Idria, which is at once a rugged wilderness, an environmental disaster that has generated local friction, and a dell for lost souls.
Outspoken and gifted Frances Katherine Woods is the film’s main protagonist. After twenty years as a mariachi violinist in rowdy California bars, an accident ended her music career. Living with chronic pain, Kate is emotionally mercurial and vulnerable. The film observes her within the context of her home in the ghost town of New Idria, where she cares for her pets and brother. Having dedicated recent years to journalism and activism, Kate has been a key figure in drawing political attention to the environmental damaged left behind by the New Idria Mining Company.
San Francisco-based filmmaker Ben Guez has had close contact with Kate and the other subjects since early 2016, making regular trips to New Idria to shoot and later inviting Sasha Kulak to co-direct. The two have extensively documented Kate in her home, ranting about the nation’s president and the conservative ranchers down the road, or carrying on about the “mercy fucks” she has given to the men in her past. Kate’s outspokenness and loneliness are punctured by quieter moments with her beloved children, sibling Chihuahuas Hamlet and Ofelia and the kitten Othello.
Kate’s brother, Kemp Minor Woods, is a geologist and inventor. Originally buying land in the ghost town to construct an experimental anti-aging bunker, he later invested in a mining claim, creating the Whimsy Mining Company to extract Benitoite, a rare mineral. Struggling with severe illness, he gets by selling gems and minerals to geology students and other infrequent visitors. Having had numerous extraterrestrial encounters, and being able to predict the weather through numerology, he is a scientist with a bend towards the paranormal.
A childhood friend of Kate and Kemp, Tom Chargin studied visual arts and then went on to work as a homicide squad photographer, later becoming master printer for famous portraitists such as
Annie Leibovitz. His black-and-white prints are windows into key elements of the Woods’ past: his intimate and turbulent history with Kate, her strength and elegance as a young woman, and her camaraderie with her brother. He is bluntly opinionated on his field, from critiquing Susan Sontag’s writing to praising the mystical landscapes of photographer Minor White.
The filmmakers’ contact with the principal subject ended tragically in May 2017. In one prophetic moment, Kate points out the site of her life-changing car accident to the camera. Just weeks later, Kate would crash again in this same treacherous curve, her life ending before this project’s shooting was complete. The film documents the last year of Kate’s life and aims to celebrate her intelligence, her battle against predictability and conformity, and the unusual place she chose to call home.
This film is an artistic portrait of a ghost town and its inhabitants. The people and places that it explores are dense with conflictual histories and sublime beauty. Our observational approach lets the details of the past emerge organically, creating surprises and mysteries in the narrative. The film’s poetic base became apparent after the loss of its main subject. As filmmakers, we were forced to pause and reconsider the meaning of our work. Kate’s discussion on-camera of her seemingly far-off death took on new significance after her car accident. A question central to the narrative and the project as a whole surfaced: what does it mean to photograph the living and hold that evidence of their existence (so soon) after their death? What does one capture when photographing the remains of a once-inhabited town, to photograph the absence of life, of movement, and of structure? Parting from Barthes’ notion that “the photograph tells me death in the future”, we hope to use this film to discover our own and the subjects’ roles in this process of conjuring ghosts from the past and ushering new ones into the future.
Co-director Ben Guez was born in the Soviet Union and at the age of nine immigrated to Chicago. After graduating with a degree in history and Latin American studies from the University of Arizona in 2006, he resumed his documentation and research of large metropolises (Bogota, Buenos Aires, Havana, Mexico City) and isolated communities in the Americas (Sierra Madre in Mexico, Colombian/Ecuadorian Pacific, and maroon settlements of the Caribbean among others). His last two short films “The Memory of Turtles” and “Valentina” participated in numerous festivals worldwide including SFFILM and GIFF. Ben is mentored by Pedro Gonzalez-‐Rubio and he has assisted over the past 3 years with cinematography on Pedro’s current project.
Co-director Aleksandra Kulak is from Belarus, Vitebsk. In 2015, she graduated from Saint Petersburg University Culture and Arts’ program for photographer‐filmmakers. Since 2014 she has also been studying at the department of cinematography of the Moscow Film School. Her work as director and cinematographer include the short films “Christmas” (co‐directed with Ruslan Fedotow, 2014) and “Ok Good” (documentary musical, 2015). Her award-‐winning documentary Salamanca (co‐dir. Ruslan Fedotow, 2015) premiered in IDFA and was an official selection in international festivals throughout the world.
Executive producer Pedro González‐Rubio was born in Brussels, he studied Communication in Mexico and Cinema at the London Film School. His film “Toro Negro” (co-dir. Carlos Armella, 2005) received the Horizontes Award for Best Latin American Film from the San Sebastian Film Festival, and “Alamar” (2010) received the Tiger Award in Rotterdam and the Best Film award in BAFICI. “Antigone” premiered in Cinéma du Reel 2018.
Producer Misha MacLaird is originally from Oakland California, she has worked with film festivals and
production funds in the San Francisco Bay Area and Mexico, and is currently
a programming consultant for the Guanajuato International Film Festival.
She is developing several short and feature-length projects, including
adaptations of the novels by award-winning Mexican author Yuri Herrera.
Sound editor Andrey Dergachev is a composer and sound supervisor whose work includes
internationally acclaimed director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “Loveless” (2017), “Leviathan” (2014), and “Elena” (2011), as well as the documentaries “City of the Sun” (2017), “Songs for Kit” (2017), and “Salamanca” (2015).