The Garden
Oscilloscope Laboratories // Unrated // $29.99 // August 18, 2009
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted August 24, 2009
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The latest from Oscilloscope Labs (the film production company run by rappers the Beastie Boys), "The Garden" is an Oscar nominated documentary focusing on the garden of the title, which is located in South Central Los Angeles. The largest community garden in the US, the garden was built shortly after the Los Angeles riots and was a project of the nearby Los Angeles Food Bank. It quickly became a source of livelyhood and food for many of the residents of the local area (who called themselves "The South Central Farmers").

In the middle of a densely populated urban environment, the group (who governed themselves) managed to create an incredibly successful (and the amount of varying crops that they were able to grow in the middle of the city is impressive) farm - something that the neighborhood came together to restore and build. Seeing it in the film is wonderfully moving, as what they accomplished with this garden is powerful and one can see in the eyes of those who participated the pride that they feel.

Sadly, in 2004, the citizens were presented with a notice of eviction. The owner of the land originally had the land bought under eminent domain and intended to turn it into a trash incinerator. It was only after protest that the project was abandoned and eventually the farm project was started. Yet, the original owner of the land sued to get the land back, since it was never used for the city project within a certain period of time.

The nearly 350 families involved with the project protested and took their case to court. While they were able to obtain a temporary injunction, their fight was certainly not nearly over. Political connections are soon playing a part, as well - a soccer field that was promised to the neighborhood turned out to be a crude, dirt field with a few painted lines (the original "plan" called for an 800-seat rec center.) How much money was raised for that soccer field, which is described to look as if it cost $5,000? $4.7 Million. What is proposed as the replacement for the farm/garden? A soccer field and a warehouse (however, as the film notes, in 2008, still nothing has been built on the site.)

Director Scott Hamilton Kennedy has crafted a superb piece of work with "The Garden", which stands out as one of the most powerful, deeply saddening (the last few minutes are painful to watch, although at least there is some happiness at the close) and soulful films I've seen in recent memory. This is an important film and the struggles that these people go through to try and preserve what they've worked so hard for is absolutely inspiring and should be shown in schools.


VIDEO: "The Garden" is presented in 1.33:1 full-frame, and while the presentation isn't remarkable, the picture quality meets expectations, given the material. Sharpness and detail vary throughout, with most scenes looking at least mildly crisp. However, some scenes can look softer and some of the archive footage can look like low-quality VHS. Still, at least no instances of edge enhancement were noted, nor were any instances of damage to the elements. Colors looked natural and generally looked spot-on.

SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was generally documentary-oriented, with the surrounds only offering slight ambience. Audio quality was fine, with clear, well-recorded dialogue.

EXTRAS: Scott Hamilton Kennedy, producer Vivianne Nacif, producer Dominique Derrenger and farmer/activist Tezozomoc provide an audio commentary for the film. Stretches of the commentary are a little dry and low-key, but the group does provide some good behind-the-scenes stories and provide some further background on stories seen in the film.

A series of additional documentaries are also offered: "Celebrities Visit the Garden" (a few minutes of additional footage of celebs - Alicia Silverstone, James Cromwell and others - visiting and showing their support), "Allegations of Anti-Semitism" (a further look at an aspect of the story), "March to Mayor's Mansion" (a deleted clip of the farmers marching in front of the LA mayor's mansion), "Protest at Horowitz's Office" (deleted scene), "A New Design for the Garden" (deleted scene - discussion of a new format, as well as a speech regarding the situation by a candidate), "Farmers Return to City Counsel" (deleted scene) and "More Farmers and Farm History" (a further look at the neighborhood and farmers, which lasts for several minutes.)

Finally, we also get about 20 minutes of film festival Q & A, as well as an interview with film critic David Poland and director Scott Hamilton Kennedy.

Final Thoughts: This is an important film and the struggles that these people go through to try and preserve what they've worked so hard for is absolutely inspiring. The DVD offers fine audio/video quality, as well as some very nice extras. Overall, a must see.

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