These 2 Short Films Explore Gentrification And Crime In Los Angeles
Short films are often how filmmakers get their start, making something that gives a flavor of their work before they get the funding to direct or write longer programming. NBC's holding its 13th annual shorts festival, with a free finale ceremony and screening Wednesday night at the Directors Guild theater.
Two of the six finalists, chosen from more than 3,400 submissions, speak directly to life in Los Angeles. Those films are We Know Where You Live and Monday.
WE KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE
This short tells the story of a young Latinx couple buying a Silver Lake home — and their suspiciously friendly new hipster neighbors. It's a comedic suspense story following in the footsteps of Get Out that deals with both race and gentrification.
The film was written by Honora Talbott and Bill Posley, who also play the hipster neighbors. Talbott directed.
"Bill and I obviously live in Los Angeles," Talbott said,"and gentrification and urban displacement are really big issues exacerbated by the housing crisis."
The two were inspired to take on the issue because it's something that currently affects their own neighborhood and the city as a whole.
"When I first moved out here, I lived in the Latino community, and so did a bunch of friends of mine who were Latino," Posley said.
Posley and Talbott interviewed Latino friends to make sure they got the racial dynamics of the film just right.
"We had a friend who we interviewed about it, and she said she was paying her landlord cash — and he was taking it every month for 10 months, and then said that she never paid just to evict her so they could sell the building," Posley said. "And she ended up having to leave her place because they were selling it to the highest bidder."
The film's Latino actors also gave feedback on the script. Talbott and Posley also wanted to improve Latino representation, being actors themselves and having actor friends.
While Latinos are often in small parts or presented stereotypically, Posley said, they wanted to do a film with their Latino stars as "normal, straight, every day, hardworking, average people" — juxtaposed against two over-the-top hipsters.
Get Out inspired them to create a social thriller. There's also comedy at the film's heart, despite some of the story's trappings.
"We think that with comedy, you have the ability to tell something scary or emotionally traumatizing, but make it palpable because it is comedic," Posley said.
They added a tag that plays after the credits start to roll, as they felt they weren't leaving their audience with the message they wanted to — and were leaving people feeling bad. The tag twists that.
"We've had an audience literally, when the credits hit, we had an audience boo," Posley said. "And then the tag hit, and they erupted."
They still want to leave the audience at least a little angry about the issues they're confronting, particularly gentrification.
"People need to be able to move where they need to move, and they need to be able to live where they need to live," Posley said. "I think that the thing we're trying to say is about the appropriation of culture. And that that's a big part of what happens with gentrification, is how the people who are being gentrified oftentimes feel like they're losing their culture around them. They feel like they're losing the thing that makes their neighborhood their neighborhood."
It's a complicated issue, as Posley said they also don't want to argue in favor of neighborhoods being segregated to one group — but Talbott emphasized the importance of respecting a neighborhood and what's already there.
They're hoping to turn the film into a feature, and also plan to release the short online. They also have ideas for doing more with the hipster characters, focusing on them in a more grounded way in a longer TV series.
Monday presents a day in the life of a low-level dealer of drugs and stolen goods, riding around L.A. on his bike as he gets people what they need. He faces racism and struggles with the ethics of what he's doing, and why he's doing it, as he travels between different ethnic groups.
"The story came from a lot of things that I'd gone through as a kid, in trying to adapt to my environment," writer/director Dinh Thai said about the partially autobiographical film. "From 7 to 25, I didn't always feel like I knew who I was, but I felt comfortable being part of everyone else's culture."
Thai said that every aspect of the film had to do with something he'd gone through. He made some bad choices of his own growing up, breaking and entering in a richer neighborhood nearby, stealing from the residents.
"This was at a time when people felt it was still safe," Thai said. "Their garage doors were unlocked."
He later turned to destruction of property and graffiti — and was eventually arrested at 17.
"It's not like I just woke up one day, and was like 'Yeah, I can write stuff,'" Thai said. "I had to live some things. I had to betray people, I had to have my heart broken, I had to reflect on things."
Now he's turning his life around, making his name as a director. This film was previously a first place winner at the HBO APA Visionaries and won Best Direction at the New York Television Festival.
He recently had the chance to shadow on a TV show as he works to improve his craft.
"I heard one of the co-producers talk about what people in the Midwest like to see, in regard to what L.A. looks like," Thai said. "And he mentioned that people like to see the glamor, and the glitz, and the stars, and all this beautiful architecture, and all these beautiful people. And that's not my L.A."
While that may be the media's view of L.A., Thai said, he grew up in the San Gabriel Valley in a very different version of what L.A. is.
"Our existence was really about struggling to be friends, and to be safe, but at the same time really attracted to danger — and how far could we go before we really hurt someone or got caught," Thai said.
With Monday, he wanted to tell a story about the world he's from. He said that it wasn't Boyz n the Hood on one hand, or 90210 on the other.
Thai's best friend growing up was Mexican, and they grew up in a highly multicultural neighborhood. He tried to take the way it felt to have those races all bumping into one another and put it in the film.
"The people that I got along with the most were the ones that also, we talked a lot of s—- to each other, and we made fun of each other," Thai said. "And so that sort of blurred the lines of racism a little bit, and that's what made it comfortable. We made each other laugh — we could appreciate each other's faults, as well as insults."
He hopes that audiences are left with a little different perspective about what criminals really are.
"I have hesitant thoughts about judging criminals as just criminals, because they're people too," Thai said. "Because our ancestors came to this country, and slaughtered and broke all kinds of [laws] before they were laws. And my parents struggled and broke rules, and my siblings struggled and broke rules, and some of them got in trouble for that."
Thai currently works as a commercial director, and his aspirations include directing TV shows or movies. He also wants to turn Monday into a series, with each episode focusing on a different day of the week.
To see these films and more, you can go to the NBCUniversal Short Film Festival finale Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are free and can be reserved here.
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