'The Great Wall of Los Angeles,' a Documentary by Donna Deitch

Since 1978, the mini-documentary "The Great Wall of Los Angeles," directed by Social Public Art and Resource Center co-founder and filmmaker Donna Deitch, has been used as a calling card. It's screened to introduce SPARC's mission to new staff members, UCLA students beginning their studies at SPARC's Digital Mural Lab, and guests interested in the work of the public art institution.

In a tidy 12 minutes and 22 seconds, this early work by Deitch exemplifies two important SPARC processes: engaging youth in art and creating community-based work that becomes part of public memory and landscape.

Story continues below

While long-time staffers will understandably avoid seeing the film again by finding an urgent task to complete, the simple and rich narrative is always a reference to the mural making process as developed under the direction of Judith F. Baca.

It may be worth watching again. The film not only documents a process, but a time when fashion was expressed through hair, not technology. That is a new context for the term public memory.

Beginning with a grainy splash of quick edits, the camera takes time to meet with the young artists donning clothing, hairstyle and attitude suitable for completing work in a hot concrete wash during a Valley Summer. One can also admire how the film also documents a look that is now digitally simulated through camera apps, giving a credible source of today's recreated visual retro-ness of color.

The only detail bearing any tinge of nostalgia is seeing young adults isolated on a project talking to each other to solve problems. Nobody is texting or talking on a cell phone to distract themselves from directly communicating to another young artist.

While Deitch has gone on to direct film and television, and known on the festival circuit for her award-winning documentaries, her film anchors SPARC during the rough seas of producing and restoring murals in Los Angeles.

It also documents a starting point of the city's tradition of adapting Mexican Muralism to directly engage urban community and youth. With the wall rededicated in September of 2011, and Baca keeping the project contemporary through engagements, like her recent talk at MOCA's "Under The Big Black Sun," the wall and the film are still relevant.

See our retrospective of the Great Wall of Los Angeles by clicking the banner below:


We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading