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Arts and Entertainment

LAist Movie Review: The Garden

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The once-thriving South Central collective garden. Photo courtesy Black Valley Films.

Tucked secretly away amongst residential condos and too-snug street parking sits The Schindler House, a small artistic enclave that is part of the larger Mak Center. The unobtrusive works of modern beauty blend seamlessly with the grass and garden that occupy a worthy portion of the smallish plot. And perhaps it is here, on the oblong lawn as the sun sets over consistently progressive West Hollywood, that films like The Garden truly deserve to be screened.

Produced and directed by Scott Hamilton Kennedy, The Garden is a documentary four years in the making, although the story is still being written today. It is raw footage of the best and worst that mankind, and our own little Angelic corner, has to offer. There are heroes and villains, there are the concerned and the outraged, there are those who have been left behind, and those who - in the face of adversity - simply never ran. But ultimately, it is the simple story about the life cycle of a single garden.

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This garden, as it happens, is both the largest in America that is collectively owned, and undoubtedly one of the most contentious; it is the South Central garden. Totaling 14 acres of real estate sitting only a few blocks and several tax brackets away from downtown Los Angeles, the garden has long since cultivated its own sense of skepticism and lore. Love it or hate it, and there are plenty who have done both, the South Central garden found away to force people together, so that they may overcome. And thankfully Kennedy’s The Garden has masterfully, wonderfully, unashamedly gotten it all on film.

The narrative of this 80-minute documentary tightly follows the roles of the major political players as they fight for what they all believe is the best end for an otherwise dusty-brown plot at 41st and Alameda. Since the riots, it has served as a home base and flourishing respite for hundreds of families who are proud and diligent enough to own a small plot in the larger cooperative. But when government deals and ominous claims of ownership threaten the South-Central sanctuary, there is only one option: to fight. As legal proceedings achieve varying degrees of success and failure, it becomes clear that the simple urban farmers must come face to face with the entity (or is it entities?) that attempt to undermine it's very existence.

The story of The Garden is well-heeled in all of the contemporary media nuances that keep audiences working, churning towards a conclusion. Inflated with promise and punctured by despair, this film is the absolutely perfect mix of brutal truth and rose-colored glasses as there is to be found. The awe-inspiring elements of social activism and community pride in the face of moral and political ineptitude remind us all of our greatest civic duty: honesty. Cut flawlessly from a canvas of lush, earthy greens and the dark, red corners where the dirtiest deals are made, this film is an absolute movement of its own.

Sitting in the WeHo garden of the Schindler House, moved to tears by the plight and purpose of people I have never met, I can only begin to understand Kennedy's impetus for filming The Garden. And as the night grows darker and the cold slowly settles into the the grass, it is easy to identify with those that have come before...those whose rakes and hoes and machetes and hands worked into disrepair so that we can all have what we do now. In today's urban landscape, the disconnect between farm and Famina!! is perhaps too great. But for one night, or at one intersection in South Central Los Angeles, it is absolutely imperative that we all try to reconnect.

The award-winning film The Garden is currently searching for wider release in the Los Angeles area.