The LA River was nothing but a curiosity to me - what was this long, concrete LA eyesore? Who built it? And why aren't we collecting all the water that runs down the LA concrete river? That's where my journey began with this project. Turns out Friends of the LA River (FoLAR) beat me to the punch - years ago, their founder, poet Lewis MacAdams had those same questions. And, it has become his life.
Watching original, (incredible!) footage of the 1938 MASSIVE flood that took out 6000 homes, flooded 1/3 of Los Angeles and even cancelled the Oscars, I was captivated. I had heard that Congress was about to have a hearing about the biggest repair/expansion of the river since it was built (in 1938). This timely mix of one of LA's oldest stories, plus our drought, plus the Army Corps of Engineerings' position on rebuilding this aquaduct that eradicated our indigenous wildlife, and the hope of actually reviving this massive concrete waterway was the moment when I knew this story was begging to be told. What people don't know, is that the city of Los Angeles was founded by the Spanish (and their first missions built) because of the beauty of this natural waterway. Its an origin story for Los Angeles.
The LA River? Ask anyone - you'll get a blank stare. But ask them if they know the scene in Grease where they race the cars, or remember Arnold Schwarzenegger from Terminator riding down it in a motorcycle, and the light bulb goes off. That's what people know of our fifty-one mile long River! Surprisingly, many, many long-term residents have never been down to the restored parts of the river, and don't even know it's available. In a city devoid of green space, this is a HUGE asset.
The drought has been a gift to the LA River. What we once knew as - "Oh, that weird concrete channel that runs by the freeway" - is now becoming that "Hey - that thing that fills up with rainwater - what are we doing about it?" That's the conversation. Water is THE conversation, at the moment, and it is providing us an impetus for change, potentially a "once in a generation" opportunity is upon us, to really make an appreciable difference in our city. Needless to say, this inspires a passion to get the message out. The story was ripe to be told - FoLAR opened their archives - footage, photos - it was a filmmaker's candy store.
The most difficult thing was trying to make sense of it. The river, the history, the politics, the changes, the personalities... It's completely overwhelming at first,there is so much to try to understand. Then, also trying to make a documentary timely, is a huge challenge. There is so much historical information one needs to understand, in order to get your head around the river - but the story must also speak to the moment in order to engage the audience. Because we found someone who had lived through the floods of 1938 who witnessed the flood, because we are sitting on the start line of massive developmental change - parks, ponds, outdoor living spaces on the River - because the Army Corps of Engineers are actually working to bring back the indigenous wildlife in an urban setting, once I got my head around it, I found it to be quite miraculous!
Seeing change occur... in spite of making the film, while we were in post production, Congress just passed the biggest leg up the river has seen. That is, a vote to do the largest plan of restoration, over the next 50 years. We are now waiting for the next steps, but astonishingly, the timing of the film, and the timing of this film, which explores the history of the river, right up to the moment... Well, this film is merely a Chapter 1 in what is going to be an ongoing revival of a natural resource that we have neglected for almost 80 years.
It is a documentary short, that gives the history of the river, going back to the Tongva tribes that first lived by it's banks, to the Spanish Portola expedition, through the huge explosion and expansion in Hollywood/Los Angeles in the early 19th Century. We then see original footage of the flood, from 1938, and discuss where the river is headed and what the future will bring.
Los Angeles is about to fight for her own survival - for water. Los Angeles is poised to make a massive 1.3 billion dollar investment in the Los Angeles River. That's 1.3 billion dollars of hope, and survival, and sustainable living for the largest city west of the Mississippi. That's worth picking up a camera for...