THE BLOG
06/21/2005 02:53 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Greetings From Watts...

... By way of the Ford Ampitheater, where I was priviledged to see the Los Angeles Film Festival's screening of David Lachapelle's stunning new documentary RIZE. As you may already know from the story in Sunday's New York Times Magazine, RIZE is the story of the hundreds (thousands?) of kids, teens and young adults in South Central LA who have turned from Gangs to... dancing. It all started when ONE ex-con, Tommy the Clown, started entertaining at neighborhood kids' birthday parties as a hip hop clown. Then, everybody started joining in and today there are over 50 different clown groups who paint their faces, dress up in funny costumes and entertain. Next, some of the clowners branched off and invented Krumping, a frenetic dance style based in hip hop and "the stripper dance," but incorporating dance versions of violent scenarios from life on their streets (one popular move re-enacts the Rodney King beating), as a way of expressing the anger and frustration of their lives through dance. The annual "BattleZone" is a dance competion between the Clowners and the Krumpers held before an enthusiastic audience of thousands at the LA Forum.

And, yes, this all has to be seen to be believed. The power and poignancy and artistry of these kids is overwhelming. The razor thin line the film walks brilliantly between the hope and joy this phenomenon has brought to the ghettos of LA, and the brutal reality of drugs, gangs and violence that pervades those neighborhoods 24-7 is completely heartbreaking.

As a stunning non-fiction companion piece to CRASH, here are two of the year's best movies, both exploring race and reality in today's Los Angeles (and both, it is is worth noting, distributed by Lions Gate films) -- and if RIZE catches on the way it deserves to and the way I think it might, and with a new administration taking office next week, maybe we could be nearing a tipping point of awareness in our city. Might there actually be some real progress that can be made in the fight against gangs and violent crime? Some real hope for these brilliant, beautiful kids?

RIZE has its LA Premiere tonight and opens this friday at a theater near you. Dance -- do not walk -- to see it.