Global Ghost Towns: Film Showcase

Global Ghost Towns: Film Showcase


For the duration of March, Emma Cummins is curating The Future State blog around the theme of contemporary ghost towns.  In this week’s post, she selects three very different films that reflect the problems of property-led growth in the US, Ireland and China. 

Foreclosures – Detroit: The Troubled City (8mins)

Bruce Gilden

In Bruce Gilden’s series Foreclosures, the effects of the US subprime mortgage crisis are explored through short films set in Florida, Las Vegas and Reno, Fresno and Detroit.  Through interviews with residents and local communities, he reveals how the proliferation of empty homes has impacted the physical and social fabric of American cities.

As seen in Detroit: The Troubled City, Gilden blends still and moving images to reflect the complexity of contemporary urban change.  In his words: ‘when I arrived in Detroit I saw a city government that does not take care of its people and a lot of those people have stopped caring […] Property values go down, nobody wants to live in these areas.  To me it almost seems like they are left standing so that one day they drive everybody out and grand new subdivisions can be made’.

For more on Gilden’s work, see his website:

Vacancy (2mins 19)

Paddy Baxter

At The Future State of Ireland conference last November, the subject of Ireland’s so-called ‘ghost estates’ proved a fascinating and contentious topic.  Often described in “ghostly” or spectral terms, these unfinished developments have inspired many artists and film-makers.

In Paddy Baxter’s experimental ‘horror documentary’ Vacancy, the artist explores Carrig Glas Manor in Country Longford.   Through a collaboration with the Manchester music collective Tubers Music, the film blends atmospheric soundscapes with photos and video footage.  As Baxter explains: ‘Vacancy became for me a fascinating lesson on the power of music in film.  Fiction film invariably uses music to manipulate our emotions more effectively. The use of music in documentary can be more problematic – it allows the filmmaker to exert a huge degree of control over how we view real people and political or social standpoints. There is no denying that this film comes from a subjective political viewpoint, however its intention is not social critique, but rather it seeks to explore in some way the embedded emotional confrontation between myself as the filmmaker and this disrupted landscape’.

Vacancy was inspired by a photo-article on the recent phenomenon of Irish ‘ghost estates’.  Read the article here:

Ordos 100 (1hr 39)

Ai Wei Wei

Directed by China’s most famous living artist, Ai Wei Wei, Ordos 100 is a fascinating, hour-long documentary on a huge, architectural project in Inner Mongolia.  For the Ordos 100 Desert Villa project, Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron – best known for their conversion of Bankside Power Station into Tate Modern – invited 100 international architects to design 100 private villas, each covering 1000 square metres of land.

As seen in last week’s blog post, which cited the work of photographer Michael Christopher Brown, the new city of Ordos has failed to attract many residents.  Often described as a ‘ghost town’, it is but one example of the many under-populated new cities in present-day China.  In this context, Ordos 100 offers unique insights into the country’s political and economic ambitions.  Whilst the Desert Villa project has never been realised, it reveals the ways in which architecture is used as a strategy for economic growth.

As Michael Alexander Ulfstjerne explains in the article ‘Creative land grabs: The Ordos 100 spectacle revisited’: ‘After several visits to the idle construction site and interviews with developers, architects, urban planners and local engineers working there, it became evident to me that creativity incubation zones and developments such as the Ordos 100 are good investments even though they might never actually be built. In the initial stage, the production of images, models and plans most likely serve as feasibility criteria to convince the local government to allocate land-use rights at a bargain price’.

Plans for the proposed villas at Ordos 100 can be viewed here: