When Joris Debeij first came to Los Angeles in 2009, he thought he'd only be here for a short assignment before returning to his native Netherlands. But the 25 year-old filmmaker and journalist was captivated by the city, and after his job ended, he decided to stay.
Debeij says, "the city kind of grabbed me," and last August he started filming short portraits of people around the city. Called, "I Am Los Angeles," his short films consider city stereotypes (the boardwalk bodybuilder, the East LA tattoo artist) while turning them on their heads.
Good first reported on Debeij's project in January of this year, when he had published just three portraits. Now he's filmed fourteen, with plans to distribute the films in the United Kingdom through the BBC Big Screen project and a few small film festivals throughout the United States. Debeij says he's still filming, and his upcoming profiles include a political activist, a photographer, and a pair of fashion designers.
Here's his latest:
Some of Debeij's favorite films feature Angelenos who share their gifts with the public. He names street artists El Mac and Retna (who "use their art to lift people up,") and the guys from Fallen Fruit (who "have a really noble idea of public fruit for everybody") as some of his favorite portraits.
When he first set out to film a boxing school in South Central, Debeij recalls that some well-meaning friends warned him to be careful in Watts, saying, "there's not a whole lot of good coming from there." The experience made him realize that many Angelenos don't recognize the wealth of culture and experience in their own backyards. To that, he says, "my really simple observation is that some Angelenos can be more open to to each other, and try harder to avoid being presumptuous about certain neighborhoods or groups."
Still, when we asked, "Why LA? Why not your own hometown?" Debeij concedes, "Amsterdam [seems to be] just about the red light districts and the pot shops, but actually there's way more to it... Maybe someday there will also be 'I Am Amsterdam.' "