The Garden: Filmmaker Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s politically charged, Oscar-nominated documentary follows a group of low-income families struggling to protect a 14-acre urban farm in the middle of South Central Los Angeles from bureaucratic real estate developers.
First, I want to thank Vasilly for suggesting this documentary for Film Club. I don’t watch very many documentaries, but I have to wonder at that, as I usually find myself fascinated when I do. The Garden was no exception; it portrayed an event and issue that I was previously unaware of.
This is the perfect kind of movie for Film Club, because my mind is literally spinning with the issues surrounding this film. First of all, I loved the way that it portrayed how a community can come together to create something beautiful. The garden was absolutely gorgeous, and I loved that these poverty-stricken families could grow food for themselves, as well as create something that bound them together as a community. And yet, within that same community, you could see racial tensions, misunderstandings, and other disharmony that weakened their cause.
As a white woman who lives in a rural area that is not very culturally diverse at all, I am the first to admit that I have a hard time responding to films like this. I know how I feel about what I saw, but I feel like I have no right to speak to the racism issue, because it is something I have never experienced in my life. So, I’m simply going to speak from my heart, and hopefully I won’t offend anyone!
There seemed to be much racial tension in the area between the African-American community and the Hispanic community. The fight over whether the community need the garden or a soccer field seemed to be drawn along racial lines. The issue was only complicated by communication difficulties because most of the farmers who created the garden did not speak English. It made me sad, because I think that there was often misunderstanding due to language barriers. At the end of the film, the land developer Ralph Horowitz, who ultimately won his bid to evict the farmers and take the land back, accused the farmers of being anti-Semitic. I wish the film had gone more into why he would say that, although I have my suspicions that it was simply one last excuse to grab the land.
The Garden also dealt with the issue of local politics, something which I fully admit I am ignorant of – especially in a huge urban area like L.A. I found it despicable the way the back door deals over the land were made, that there was no transparency to the community, and the way that one or two people could hold so much power that justice seemed to be neglected. I know that the film’s focus was on the farmers themselves, and their fight, but I did wish that the film-makers had given us more background on the city politics behind the land deal.
There was one other section of the film that I felt was poorly executed, and left me a bit confused, and that was when the leaders of the farmers, Rufina Juarez and Tezozomoc, were evicting some of the farmers from their plots. I am assuming that it had to do with the fact that some of them were selling produce off of their plots, which was prohibited, but I thought that part of the film confusing and left room for ambivalence.
I found the ending of the movie very sad, and was in tears over the footage of bulldozers destroying all those beautiful plants and trees. My anger was only compounded when I did some Googling and discovered that the plot was still sitting unused and empty as of August of 2012. What a waste – especially after the farmers accomplished the simply amazing feat of raising the $16 million asking price, only to have Horowitz refuse to sell to them, no matter what.
I hope that there are a lot of you who found time to watch The Garden! What did you think?