Thursday, March 26, 2009

Film Fest: Digging In

This film does what a good documentary should: Start an argument.

Shortly after the credits, those in my circle took positions and defended them with the tenacity of a barbed fishhook in soft flesh. I was in the minority and, much to my annoyance, failed to persuade the others of my side’s correctness. Therefore, free of interruption from my colleagues, I will shamelessly take this opportunity to present my position.

The Garden, by director Scott Hamilton Kennedy, follows a group of Latinos who transformed a section of urban ruin in south Los Angles into gardens. The 14 square acres was pleasant and unique in the urban landscape. The crops were pretty. The people seemed nice. The film claims to be about the dignity, determination and the farmers fight to preserve their garden when the legal owner decides to reclaim his property.

I felt Kennedy was trying show these poor people as exceptional gardeners who turned urban blight into a neighborhood Eden of flowers, trees and vegetables. The land was a symbol of hope for poor citizens in a sad environment. This is true. This is good.

But, and this is where my delusional and inflexible friends missed the point, it was not their land. They were trespassers. No matter the good they did, they should not have been there in the first place.

The bulk of the movie, an Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary, deals with the gardeners’ long, ugly fight to keep the property. (I will not tell you who comes out on top.) Attorneys and activists waged an epic battle in the courts and in the press. Celebrities stopped by. The farmers skirmished among themselves. Voices were raised. Cameras rolled. Politicians danced.

It’s a long sad saga that would later inspire my friends to mumble about justice, beauty and the human spirit. My point was entitlement. These nice people were not entitled to an inch of the ground where they planted their gardens; they just happened to be in the neighborhood and did a good thing.

Oh well, see the film, make your own decision. With wisdom, it will be mine.

— Bob Carson

Friday, March 27, 6:45 p.m.; Saturday, March 289, 11:10 a.m. USA, 107 minutes

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