“Oh my god, what is this?” Juan Devis had recently arrived in Los Angeles and was looking around the Warner Bros. lot. It was 1994, and the young Colombian had won a filmmaking prize that landed him in development. “I just didn’t get it,” he says. “I couldn’t understand how you could make a film with so many people involved.”
Fast-forward 10 years. After earning a master’s degree in directing from CalArts, Devis spent a decade bouncing between Industry jobs and community-based video projects, working with an array of unconventional storytellers. While crafting police dramas by day, Devis was working after-hours, shooting videos with different community groups. “I had this totally schizophrenic world,” he says. The next step? Dissolving that schizophrenia by merging the desire for intense storytelling and community activism into a single groundbreaking endeavor.
Four years later — now — and Devis heads KCET’s Webstories, which is, well, groundbreaking. The Web-based projects include images, sound, text, video and multiple points of view, and they often show a Los Angeles we haven’t seen in the media. “Departures,” for example, is about Boyle Heights.
“I wanted to create a sense of pleasure, of discovery, of something ludic or playful about walking in L.A.,” Devis says.
The result is a panoramic portrait that lets users move through East First Street to encounter bits of history, local lore and the street’s current denizens. It’s rich with detail but cheerfully idiosyncratic. Other issues look at sustainability, shelter, music and driving, among other things, and always from an unexpected angle.
“I started by building on the love I have for L.A.,” explains Devis, “and the energy of the city and the stories and places that are completely outside what we normally think defines the city.”
When he started, Devis wanted to help KCET reach the 18 to 35 demographic. “The Web seemed to be a perfect place to explore how a local station might reach that audience.” He continues, “These projects are an attempt to become relevant again. They’re a way for a TV station to be out in the world, and instead of reporting to people, collaborating with them.”
Devis is helping redefine Los Angeles, imagining new forms of cinematic expression while getting lots of people involved, not in a single story with a single protagonist and point of view, but in stories with multiple pathways and perspectives.
“My main goal now is making it seem like we’re all doing this together.”
Photo by Kevin Scanlon