Monday, April 27, 2009

Interview: Scott Hamilton Kennedy

I recently had the opportunity to interview Scott Hamilton Kennedy, whose Oscar nominated documentary, The Garden, opened Friday in Los Angeles. The film, which I wrote a very positive review of last week, chronicles the struggle of a group of Hispanic farmers, who run the largest community garden in the country in the middle of South Central L.A., against government corruption and ruthless land owners who want to shut them down.

From the Front Row: How did you first hear about the story of the South Central Gardeners, and what made you decide to make a film about them?

Scott Hamilton Kennedy: It was through my co-producer, Dominque Derrenger , who saw a PBS piece, on the show Life and Times, about the garden. We had been looking to do a project together, and he said, ‘I think we’ve found something here’, and he was absolutely right. It had so many elements of a great story. He sent me a transcript, and even with that you could see so many elements. I was on a plane and got off in LA, and went right to the garden, and we started shooting the next day. So I guess you could say that there was no pre-production on this film.


FFR: Is the final film anything like what you expected when you started out?

SHK: Yes and no. The original struggle/fight was there in the beginning and through to the end in terms of a mysterious eviction, a back room deal, and the farmers not walking away without a fight. But what I didn't know was how many twists and turns, ups and downs would take place over the course of the 2 and 1/2 years of principal shooting.


FFR: One thing I found fascinating about the film was the undercurrent of racism in an area once torn apart by the Rodney King riots. Were you surprised at all by the animosity that was directed at the farmers?

SHK: I can't say that I was surprised by the fact that people in a position of power were trying to take advantage of people who had much less power, that has been going on forever, and I thought that this was going to continue that story with it being more about class (power/money) than race, but as the story developed, and especially in the editing process, when I really started to look at how people treated each other it made me think about just how hard it is for any of us to treat each other fairly without getting derailed by things like: greed, self interest, race, class, ego, and on and on.


FFR: At the end of the film the owner of the land accuses the farmers of anti-Semitism. Where did those accusations come from?

SHK: They came from a posting by a group who said they supported the farmers, and wrote a web article making accusations to the effect that Horowitz was part of a ‘Jewish Mafia,’ which is of course terrible way to handle a difficult situation, but it wasn’t even from the farmers. I was there for over four years, and I never heard any anti-semitic statements from the farmers. I heard frustration and anger about how they were being treated, but nothing racists. And for Mr. Horowtiz to say that that was the sole reason he didn’t sell the land, I just don’t get it. In end, the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles did a study on the situation and they found no evidence that the farmers were anti-semitic.


FFR: Do you still keep in contact with any of the farmers?

SHK: Yes, as a matter of fact I am writing this on a Sunday evening, and I just saw several of farmers today at the Hollywood Farmers market were I picked up some beautiful collard greens and rainbow chard from them.


FFR: What can viewers of the film do to help?
SHK: Help the farmers: join their website: www.southcentralfarmers.com. Write to the mayor of Los Angeles and the city council (http://www.lacity.org/), and let them know that you think the land at 41 and Alameda should be turned back into a community garden (and anything else you want to say to them).

And to help in your own community: Join or start a community garden in your city or town. Call on your local representatives to do the same. And, this goes beyond the issues of the film: don’t let democracy end at the voting booth. Check in on your representatives and make sure they are following through on their promises, and that they are not getting sidetracked by greed, self interest, power and the rest.

For more information about The Garden, visit www.thegardenmovie.com, or click here to read my review of the film.

11 comments:

Sam Juliano said...

Fantastic interview here, with some excellent questions! Wow, what a coup for you Matthew and for FROM THE FRONT ROW!!! Mr. Kennedy is an articulate filmmaker with much to say!

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