Editor’s Note: Nick Brandestini’s  “Darwin” screens twice at Mountainfilm in Telluride: Saturday, May 26, 12 p.m., The Nugget Theatre and Sunday, May 27, 10 a.m., Masons Hall

Are these folks really the fittest?

Start with Monty, a salty old miner, who, with the help of his firecracker wife, Nancy, emerges from a violent history to find his inner Picasso.

Feisty Susan is the town’s irreverent postmaster. Her hippie idealism and fierce humor are shaken by a tragic estrangement that unexpectedly bonds her with other town residents.

Ryal is a transgendering 20-something (woman to man) who lives with his partner Penny. The fact there is “nothing out here for us” is missed blessing.

Hank and Connie escape a troubled past and embrace the town’s peace and quiet. They find a new religion and spread the word that the place is “just an everyday town now.”

Monty, Susan, Ryal, Penny, Hank and Connie are residents of the town of Darwin, also the name of Nick Brandestini’s latest award-winning documentary: Best Documentary, Zurich and Austin Film Festivals, Festival Favorite, Sonoma, and more. “Darwin” is one of about 80 films featured at the upcoming 34th annual Mountainfilm in Telluride, May 25– May 28.

A small group of men were making their unhappy way to the San Joaquin Valley when they stopped in the area in the 1800s. Exhausted and starving, their only working gun was a rifle with a missing sight. No hope of bagging game. The story goes an Indian guide went off to save the day and returned with a new rifle sight made of pure silver. A few years later, one of the original party, a man named Darwin French, returned to the Argus Range to locate the Gun Sight Mine. He never found the place, but huge deposits of silver and lead spurred the growth of the town at the end of a weathered road in Death Valley, California.

In 1877, Darwin boasted a population of 3,500, but fire, labor disputes, and water problems took their toll. The place Brandestini came across while on a trip through the Mojave Desert was a “living ghost town”: population 37. “Darwin,” the movie, features roughly 1/3 of the town’s 35 locals, a motley crew of artists, pseudo-hippies, intellectuals, and anarchists, who fled drugs, violence and headlines to live in an isolated community without a government, a church,  jobs, or kids. (Two have flown the coop since the director began the project in 2009).

“Darwin’s” survival depends on a fragile, gravity-fed waterline that descends from the mountains where top secret weapons are being tested. One “accidental” drop of a bomb, they half-joke, could wipe out their entire town.

Darwin’s survival? Dicey. For “Darwin” the film?  A done deal. “Darwin” is Brandestini’s “Paris, Texas,” a winner:

“‘Darwin is beautiful, elegiac work with unexpected impact and meaning,” raved The Los Angeles Times

“…Undeniable poetry…affectionately documented, said Variety.

“We can only marvel at their candor when faced with Nick Brandestini’s camera,” declared The New York Times.

For a preview, watch the trailer:

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