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STUDIO: Oscilloscope Laboratories
RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes
• Interview with director Scott Hamilton Kennedy
• Deleted/extended scenes
The Man fucking sucks and He reminds you why in this 2009 Academy Award nominee.
Starring many a charitable actor, many a small person, some big persons, some famous, some not, some good, and many, many bad
Directed by: Scott Hamilton Kennedy
Not many good things came out of the Rodney King Riots of the early 90s, one of the more overlooked boons: a 14 acre swath of land where community members had erected a lush, green garden oasis in the middle of downtown LA known as the South Central Farm. Years later, they are threatened with eviction from the landlord and the cameras are on scene to document all the two-faced douchebaggery, political scheming, shady backroom deals and heartbreak that occur.
The Garden is a lightning rod of a documentary. Let’s get that out of the way first. This movie will make you scream, it will make you scream at politicians and their empty promises, it will make you scream at the farmers, it will make you scream at community groups, heck, it might even make you scream at Darryl Hannah. Regardless of who is getting screamed at, and it will be many, this is something important. With the deft hand of a master chef, director Scott Hamilton Kennedy cuts through the bullshit, the standard documentary tropes and gets to the heart of the matter.
The heart: That’s the people. The little people. They’re the ants in the playground while the giants muck about, the pawns on the board. They exist to be knocked around and tossed out, so that the bishops and queens might advance. Most of them are decent, all of them are hardworking but they can’t get a break. For years, they’ve been minding their own business, not bothering anyone, but that wretched be the peacemakers. Curse those who simply want to live, there’s always someone there to get in their way.
After a brief introduction which zips through the history of the South Central Farm in a lean, effective manner, we’re brought to 2002 where there are rumblings of the landlord wanting to sell. If it were simply the farmers against the landowner, that would be one thing and there perhaps would be little dramatic heft to the tale that wasn’t already guaranteed in the term ‘David vs. Goliath’. But it is in the details where the film shines. As Kennedy peels away the layers that surround this story, we discover that ‘David vs. Goliath’ is selling the whole affair short. There are deals and deals on top deals that are outside the public eye, unless you know where to look. And all the while, an apathetic public (that’s us) looks on, and our elected officials are no better, oftentimes administering the very deals that will put these people out of a farm (people they originally promised to help).
When the aliens arrive and they ask us, ‘What is America?’ Show them ‘The Garden’. This is the country made small. America is a land of opportunity, yes, but it is more importantly, a land of the haves and have nots, a varied land of white and, well, everyone else. And above all, it is a land of money. It would be easy to dismiss the conflict between the farmers and owner Ralph Horowitz as one between South American immigrants and whitey if many of the chief antagonists towards our subjects weren’t a multi-colored rogues gallery themselves. Money, of course, corrupts white and black alike, and like Deep Throat said, ‘Follow the money’. The money, who has it, who doesn’t, who needs it and who doesn’t casts a long, green shadow over the proceedings and it kills you to see these people who aren’t bothering anyone, who just want to provide food for their families (selling is actually cause for losing your plot) get dicked over, time and time again by not just politicians like Jan Perry, but by community activists, such as the sniveling sham of a woman Juanita Tate and her son.
It’s a film of many battles and each side takes a few. The landowner, Ralph Horowitz, whom we see only once, wants them evicted, the people fight back and with the help of an enterprising lawyer, stop it. There are infights among the farmers and ultimately, when they need to raise a lot (and I mean a lot of money), they do so. The things they endure…they’d be so fucking triumphant if, ultimately, they weren’t so utterly tragic. At the end of the day, all the victories amount to nothing.
The Garden is a terrifying reminder of the power of politics. One million pawns can be on the board, but the game is decided by the king. Look, I know there’s power to the people; god dammit, there has to be. But oftentimes that power rests in the vote, and you don’t get to do that everyday. So you wait a year or two to vote, but that does not bring back the here and now. Voting against Mayor Villaraigrosa isn’t going to bring the farm back. It isn’t going to do anything to help the farm, the land, the people and that, my friends, is something to scream about. You watch something like The Wire, with its subtle greys and complex interactions and characters and while it hits you, it’s still fiction. The Garden will hit you in the same way, but with the added suckerpunch of knowing that it’s real. And because it’s real, it’s a story worth watching and, to repeat myself, something to scream about.
The film comes with a commentary by Kennedy, the film’s producers and one of the farmer’s leading activists and stealer of the show, Tezozomoc, a large jovial fellow who is funny, sad and angry in equal parts.
Film critic David Poland conducts an interview with Kennedy (though keeps himself off screen). Kennedy is devoted, there is a fire in his eyes and he sometimes has to keep himself from yelling. Poland is very thorough, asking about themes, filming, even marketing of the film. It’s a very non-junketed interview that is refreshing in a world of written statements and press releases.
A bevy of deleted, extended scenes (including the protest) are included. The film needs absolutely nothing more to it, it is as lean as films can be and though the extended scenes are excellent, they are not entirely necessary.