By Hanul Bahm
On its extended, sixteen-month road trip through parts of Southern California, the LACMA9 Art+Film Lab wrapped its first run in Redlands last weekend. Tucked in the lap of a panoramic mountain range, Redlands feels like a sun-drenched, mini oasis. It's also an interesting split: a highly educated class on the south side of town, and a working class community dubbed 'Little Mexico' on the north side. At an hour-and-a-half distance outside of Los Angeles, Redlands has developed its own distinctive culture and community beloved by the townspeople.
The lovely, progressive Department of Campus Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Redlands was our community partner. They allowed us to pitch camp in a corner of campus that bleeds into Little Mexico for five weeks. During that time we offered a variety of free filmmaking workshops on a first come, first served basis, an oral history booth, as well as free outdoor movie screenings on weekend evenings.
Like any start-up project, LACMA had an intense ramp-up to our launch date, June 7, 2013. LACMA fabricators, painters, and staff worked under the Inland Empire sun, prepping the Lab just hours leading up to our Open House. When the work was done, it felt good to stand in the space. The walls and curtains emanate a dazzling light, the byproduct of a saturated palette of bubble gum, flamingo, and tangerine tones not usually found in U.S. design. The Lab was designed and constructed in Merida, Mexico by Jorge Pardo Sculpture. It was then driven across the border before arriving in Los Angeles.
Opening Night kicked off with an acoustic set by Son Real. Their melodies are gorgeous and virtuosic. No one wanted it to end. They play jarocho, a folk music native to Oaxaca that's having resurgence in SoCal communities. All the proceeds of their music go toward supporting an immigrant and legalization social services organization in San Bernardino. The band members played on various instruments, including a harp and a jaw bone of an animal.
"The Exiles" by Kent MacKenzie was our first film. We had heard that areas east of Redlands had a sizeable native population, including the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians and the Cahuilla Nation. We think of the Lab as serving the region it's based in, not the just the immediate city, so we wanted to give tribute to this great, rediscovered film. The film follows a group of young native men and women who've relocated their lives to the legendary Bunker Hill neighborhood of 1960s downtown L.A. Non-actors played themselves in the film, staging vignettes lifted from their own lives. It is a poetic and honest take on displacement and the quest for community.
Despite respectable efforts at outreach, the crowd that turned out for the first weekend was sparse. Like lonely shop owners, we all got up out of our seats, excited, when it looked like someone was approaching the Lab to try out a workshop or an oral history. Apparently the Lab was situated on the turf of some neighborhood boys living down Brockton Avenue. They came in, the four of them, all around ten-years old. Our first customers for the oral history project!
The boys told us they "go way back -- like six months." They have their own YouTube channel and already have 45 hits. The smallest of them wants to be a football player, and another, an actor.
Foot traffic to the Lab eventually picked up. By the fourth weekend, we were at capacity with one of our workshops. That was also when the heat wave hit Redlands. Community participants took breaks from the workshop to stand in front of the AC. We handed out water. Kate, one of our teaching artists, noted we were doing Bikram filmmaking, editing in 110 degree heat. Some days the heat made it too hard to work inside. So LACMA staff took refuge under the trees nearby and waited for the sun to dip past the horizon.
We learned a lot from our loyal Lab participants and the modest crowds that turned out for film screenings. For starters, we discovered that there's a vibrant arts community in Riverside. We realized that Redlands is ruled by a small-town ethos that lets someone knock on a residential door, ask to interview the resident, and be granted their wish. That is exactly what happened during one of our Mini Docs workshops. Another intrepid participant interviewed a "Cash for Gold" sign spinner, then went to the gold shop to interview the owner. That sense of free-wheeling looseness and willingness inspired the LACMA staff. Meanwhile, being able to conceive, shoot, and edit a film in the span of a workshop gave participants a sense of completion.
LACMA left Redlands armed with thoughts on how to curate films for community resonance, and determined to be more radical and far-reaching in our outreach for the future.
We made friends along the way, and we'd like to thank a few of them here. Leela Madhavarau, the Associate Dean for Campus Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Redands, championed the Lab and provided deep guidance on effectively serving communities. Sanjay Carter Rau, our Community Liaison, sprinkled outreach flyers all over town. John, a senior facilities engineer at the University, enabled us operationally and was kind to us. And Cabarello, our security guard who called people by their astrological sign, was always positive and welcoming.
Additional contributing from Lab Staff Hyesung Moon, Kate Marks, Fernando Cervantes, and Kelly Sun Kim.
The San Bernardino Art+Film Lab runs from Friday, July 26 to Sunday, August 25 in Perris Hill Park, San Bernardino. The Opening Night features a live concert by Quitapenas and a screening of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. For more details, check out: www.lacma.org/artfilmlab.
Top Image: Photo by Duncan Cheng.
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