It’s all over for Echo Park Film Center. They’ve been discovered; they’re popular; they’re a thing. I was one of the lucky last few they permitted in last night. Apparently a program of educational films from the Forties through the Seventies is optimal hipster bait. Since there weren’t any seats left, I was offered a space behind a display counter right next to the screen. I wouldn’t recommend it for an epic, but I enjoyed watching from an acute angle rather than perpendicularly. Like the movie fanatics in Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, I basked in the cinematic radiation directly, before it had been dirtied by contact with others.
Allyson Field and Marsha Gordon selected five 16mm educational films from the UCLA and USC archives. Each film was set in Los Angeles, and dealt with the everyday environments of different minorities, and environments of the very poor. Watching them in 2014, in that context, made them almost too dense to take in.
Felicia (1965) by UCLA film students Alan Gorg, Trevor Greenwood, and Robert Dickson, was the major discovery. In 12 minutes we experience the world of a high school student in Watts, through her own words. It’s sympathetic but not didactic; less a sociology lesson than a poem. A brilliant movie.
Due to the historical accident of documenting everyday life in Watts immediately before the 1965 urban unrest, Felica provided the model for a series of slice-of-life, first-person explorations of minority life in L.A. The one they screened last night, Akira (1971) wasn’t beautiful or brilliant, but it mapped its own terrain of cultural conflicts.
At the opposite end of the cinematic spectrum, And Ten Thousand More (1949) deployed all the worst clichés of hectoring propaganda movies, with a distinct lack of grace. It provided the camp moment of the program. But even so, it contained extraordinary footage of the lost favelas of L.A., in the Arts District, Boyle Heights, and Bunker Hill. And despite being heavy handed, the message—affordable housing benefits everybody—couldn’t be more timely.
A lot of the films were made by local film students. Students from USC documented Chavez Ravine in 1957, in a bracingly sympathetic and intelligent manner. Morteza Rezvani, while at UCLA, produced Eastside Story (1974) less as a document than as a moody character study of a kid whose gang buddies have all left, due to urban renewal projects demolishing their old neighborhood.
A fascinating, fun evening. Let’s do it again! Let’s do versions of it focusing on other cities!