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The Garden - Movie Review - 2008

Transforming Urban Blight Into Eden

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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The Garden - Movie Review - 2008

Kati Lopez, South Central Farmer in front of her crop

Don Normark/Black Valley Films
The Garden is about the South Central Farmers, a group of dirt-poor Los Angelenos who took a track of urban ruin and turned it into an Eden--only to see the flora they so lovingly planted and tended be bulldozed by a selfish land owner. This film is about their dignity, determination and their fight to preserve their garden--and what they've done to recover from its loss.

The Garden Was An Olive Branch

Following the South Central Los Angeles riots that took place after the police who beat Rodney King were acquitted, a deal was made that helped restore and preserve the peace: Citizens were given the opportunity to farm and garden on small plots of land within a 14-acre tract that soon became known as the South Central Garden.

The people who signed up were exceptional gardeners, and soon turned that 14-acre tract of urban blight into a neighborhood Eden, a cornucopia of flora replete with beautiful flowers, fruit-bearing trees of a wide variety, all sorts of vegetables. It was a haven, a retreat, a communal success story.

Most of those who dug into those little plots of land were Mexican-Americans, some were African-Americans and all of them were poor. All of them depended on the produce they grew for their sustenance and as a source of additional income. The garden became a symbol of hope. I was a revered presence in the community, a light in the lives of inner city Los Angelenos.

Until the day when a greedy land owner notified them that they were being evicted. He claimed title to the land, and wanted to build warehouses on it.

South Central Farmers quickly recovered from their shock and mobilized for a fight. With the dedicated support of attorney Dan Stormer, they put up one helluva battle--in court and in the press. Their plight became a celebrated cause--with Darryl Hanna, Danny Glover, Joan Baez and other celebrities stopping by to lend a hand. They also allowed Scott Hamilton Kennedy to make this extraordinary documentary about their community struggle.

A Heart Wrenching Moment

There are lots of twists and turns in the story, moments of hope and of despair. It seems that the land owner had some dirty dealings with government officials and some community organizations. The farmers are determined not to give in. There are postponements of the eviction. They raise money to try to buy the land. Anyway--no spoilers here, the result of the case is well known--by the time you see the bulldozers approaching, you're all wound up with the farmers and really feel their pain--and the injustice of the situation.

Scott Hamilton Kennedy's cinematography is gorgeous--you can practical smell the flowers and taste the fruit. He captures the souls of the farmers, and shows you how connected they are to the land. The film is a beautiful portrait of a unique community and it will surely move you.

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Film Details:

  • Release Date: 2008, in limited release
  • Running Time: 80 mins.
  • Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
  • Country: Los Angeles
  • Language: English
  • Company: Black Valley Films
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