The camera holds a languid shot of an open park, leafy trees catching a gentle breeze, before cutting to the image of adolescents on a summer day frolicking at the local swimming pool.
“I haven't been out of my own neighborhood too much, but I guess what impresses me most about other neighborhoods most is space,” a young woman's voice begins speaking over the grainy black and white film. “There's nothing jammed up against anything else and there's lots of room to breath. I guess this city's a pretty good place to live in, for most people.”
This city is Los Angeles, the year 1965, and the young woman is Felicia, a sensitive and soft spoken high school junior growing up in Watts. Filmed by a trio of UCLA students just months before the south L.A. neighborhood exploded that August, the film Felicia soon found its way into classrooms across the country as a teaching aid, an inadvertent snapshot of a community moments before it became the center of international attention. This Saturday, March 8, the film makes a rare public appearance when the Echo Park Film Center hosts Race & Space, a night of five singular 16mm shorts dating from 1949 to 1974.]
Marsha Gordon, an associate professor of film at North Carolina State University, along with Allyson Nadia Field, an assistant professor of Cinema and Media Studies at UCLA, will introduce the program, consisting of three documentaries in addition to Felicia and one short story adaptation, most made with “educational” purposes in mind. Rich with images of the lost landscapes of the city, the films, revolving around such issues as the post-war housing crisis, physical displacement and shifting cultural identities, and ranging across freeways, vanished communities, junk yards and housing projects, each comment in some way on the intersection of geography, race and culture in a city known for both its multiculturalism and its segregation.
“[These films] share a concern with how city planning and public policy has always divided the city into zones of privilege and disenfranchisement,” said Gordon. “They offer us a glimpse of… its politics of space that is almost entirely absent from theatrical feature films made in the same era.”
Field, who co-curated UCLA's lauded screening series in 2011 on “L.A. Rebellion” filmmakers as part of the Getty's Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA 1945-1980, says that the films in Race & Space incorporate elements unusual for educational films of the era, such as film noir tropes, lyrical sensibilities and more authenticity of voice. Field believes the big shock for cinephiles might be that these shorts hold their own against those art films. “They are stunning pieces of filmmaking,” she says.
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