Directed by: Scott Hamilton Kennedy
Cast: Tezozomoc, Rufina Juarez, Jan Perry, Juanita Tate
Running Time: 1 hr 20 min
32nd Portland International Film Festival
Country: United States
Plot: Documentary about a community garden in South Central Los Angeles that’s going to be shut down. The gardeners get together to try to keep the developer who bought the property from evicting them. From city hall to celebrities, the gardeners try everything they can think of to keep their farm.
Who’s It For? Anyone who likes documentaries, especially when they have a strong point of view.
Expectations: The Garden is up for this year’s Best Documentary Oscar, so I expected good things. I was looking for an underdog story with a triumphant ending.
The Garden begins with a group of people coming together to fight for their community garden. They’ve just been told they have two months until they’ll be evicted. When the gardeners get together after their receipt of the first eviction notice, they elect Tezo and Rufina to lead their attempt to save the garden. They find a lawyer, and what follows could make a good political thriller. Through city council meetings, court dates and protest rallies, the gardeners work every angle to make their case. Unfortunately, they have some determined enemies, like Juanita Tate. Founder of the Concerned Citizens of South Central, she’s adamantly opposed to the gardeners’ cause. She speaks out in City Council meetings and agitates behind the scenes to make sure the garden is destroyed. She seems to be involved in shady backroom deals to give up the garden in exchange for her pet project, a soccer field.
Kennedy follows right along side, clearly empathizing with the gardeners. We get limited access to their opponents, including the owner of the land, who only speaks via a video deposition for the trial. Despite this, he goes through documents, attempting to piece together why the opposition fights so hard to destroy this garden.
Kennedy watches this fight get lost not in court, but in the backroom of a city council chamber. It’s fascinating to watch people fight so hard, achieve what they set out to get and still lose. That’s what surprised me so much, the deck is stacked from the beginning and winning seems impossible. At the end of this film, I was so mad. I wanted every politician in this movie out of office, and I’m sure that Councilwoman Jan Perry and LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa won’t be thrilled by their portrayals in the film. After watching it, I wanted to send angry letters to their offices. Maybe build a garden, too, despite my black thumbs.
Final Score: 8/10