THE BLOG

LA's (Dirty) Secret Garden

03/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This isn't the first movie entitled simply The Garden. But it is the first one nominated for an Oscar in the documentary category. Director and Producer and fresh vegetable aficionado Scott Hamilton Kennedy explains why this garden in particular was worthy of a feature length film.

SHK: The Garden is about the largest community garden in the country -- 14 acres in South Central Los Angeles. It was born as a form of healing after the 1992 riots and it went on to be an incredible success serving over 360 families. It had over 500 trees, every kind of fruit and vegetable, and then after these 12 years all of sudden the farmers heard that they were being evicted. There was no public hearing, none of this was public record, and on top of it, this land was being sold to a developer who got the property for a quarter to a third of its original value. So the farmers said something does not seem right here.

I'm embarrassed to say that even after living in LA for 12 years I hadn't heard of the garden and it's a shame that people like myself who only live really six miles as the crow flies from the garden hadn't heard of it.

Could this have happened anywhere but LA?

LA has a long history of eminent domain stories, one of the most famous being Chavez Ravine that was turned into Dodger Stadium But I think it's very much a universal story [about] justice for all: is that a pipe dream that we pull out during a campaign speech or is it something that we are all going to fight for and possibly die for to believe in? This is the perfect example of the potential for that to be there but also for that to fail. If the city had just been on the up and up from the beginning maybe the garden would have had to come to an end as well but we could have talked about it; everybody could come to the table and try to figure it out.

You clearly have a point of view and perspective more in line with the farmers'...
I obviously wanted to make the film from the point of view of the farmers and how the farm came to be in existence; what it meant to those farmers, and then the information as they found out about it. I wanted the audience to take the journey with them. But I stand by every moment in that film; I'm a filmmaker that is trying to tell an engaging story and to do that you need to have a point of view.

Daryl Hannah, Joan Baez, Alicia Silverstone, --celebrity involvement was high--even for Hollywood.

James Cromwell says-in a piece not in the film but it will be in the DVD extras-that ' I don't have any better knowledge of this situation or any better wisdom on this situation than any of the other farmers but the cameras come to me, so I want to help them give voice to this issue.' It's not about the celebrity-- it's about how can their power and the media's love of them get people to understand this difficult situation.

But it's not a Hollywood ending.

Sadly the film is a tragedy. The film does end with eviction and bulldozers. It's strange as a documentarian who is now so honored to be nominated for an Academy Award to have a scene like that in the film that still brings me to tears when I watch it, and knowing that it's such a heartbreaking scene, but it also might be the reason people are responding to the film in a positive way-- it's a very strange feeling to benefit from such a horrible situation. So I tried to tell it as honestly as I could and imbue it with the soul of the people that I saw live through this story and try to put a bit of my own soul in the story and hopefully that would translate back to an audience.

Have you planned an acceptance speech?

The acceptance speech that I probably won't have to give?.....

I want to make sure I get some real thank yous to the people without whom I wouldn't have a film... These farmers introduced me to the term 'si se puede!' they borrowed it going back to Cesar Chavez . Another slightly more famous gentleman has been using it recently and it became very popular in his campaign. The farmers then introduced me to 'si se pudo,' 'yes we can' becoming 'yes we did' and out of respect for them I might see if we can get the audience to get us a little hope for more days ahead when 'si se puede' becomes 'si se pudo.' I am one of the people who has a great deal of hope in Mr. Obama and I like hearing him speak to us like adults: that it's going to difficult, that there's going to be mistakes, that he's going be imperfect and that this little engine that could called democracy needs to be fine tuned by all of us. Maybe they'll all chant along... si se pudo, si se pudo....


After his nomination, one of the South Central farmers told Kennedy that he sees their story just like a tree: you can cut off a branch but it can still grow in a healthy new direction. Recently several farmers got a loan to purchase over 80 acres in Bakersfield and they are now producing fresh fruits and vegetables that they are bringing to farmers markets across Los Angeles. More info at southcentralfarmers.org.

Scott Hamilton Kennedy is particularly fond of their spinach. It has nourished him several times already this busy Oscar week, mostly in his salads and with eggs for breakfast.