Stacy Peralta at the San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus.
Stacy Peralta is an American filmmaker, former professional skateboarder, and original member of the Z-Boys. He joins Film Forward in Imperial Valley to screen and discuss his latest film, Bones Brigade: An Autobiography.
This is my first foray with Film Forward, and I’m with my wife, Stephanie, heading to Imperial Valley, California and Mexicali, Mexico. I’ve had a love affair with the state of California my whole life—I have made a trilogy of documentaries that were inspired by vastly different experiences of the place. Now I’m going to have a chance to see another corner of the state, meet the people and hear their stories and, of course, show my film Bones Brigade: An Autobiography to new audiences.
Our mandate with Film Forward as we see it is to hop over fences. I’ve been hopping fences since I was a kid, whether to skate an empty backyard pool, “steal” a location for a no-budget production, or find my way through some backdoor circuitous route to get my documentaries made. But in this case, we’re hopping a fence that the people inside want us to jump over in order to bring something to them they are hungry for. If enough of us jump, we will knock the fence down and achieve Film Forward’s goal of a free flow of cultural exchange and dialogue.
Monday, February 25
An almost four hour drive from our home in Santa Monica finds us weaving our way through rock and boulder encrusted hills and valleys dotted with white bird windmills that are reminiscent of sci-fi descriptions of other planets. But as we turn into the street by our hotel, we are surrounded by Anywhere, America: Staples; Bed, Bath & Beyond; Michael’s Arts and Crafts; PetCo; Ross; and Starbucks (for which we’re grateful at 6:30 the following morning).
It is on our way to Chili’s for dinner with Film Forward leaders Meredith Lavitt and Bethany Clarke when we realize we’re not Anywhere–we are deep into the Imperial Valley. The wind has shifted and we are inhaling the most intense smell of what we know as fertilizer–but what in its basic form is cow manure, and in this case from thousands of cattle that are somewhere nearby in this environ. It is whatever the olfactory term for deafening would be. Being downwind of a slaughter house confronts us in a sensory overload of the meaning behind the ubiquity of fast food burgers. For Los Angeles denizens, a wind shift means a change in surf conditions; for the Imperial Valley locals, a wind shift means retreating behind closed doors and windows.
At Chili’s we are met by Charla Teeters and Marco Vera. Charla is the Film Commissioner for Imperial Valley, where an average of six productions shoot each month and coordinate through Charla’s office. Stephanie recently saw a beautiful independent film entitled Little Birds and directed by Elgin James (2011 Sundance Film Festival), which was shot out by the Salton Sea. Elgin is scheduled to present at the opening this summer of the Imperial Valley Film Festival.
Being a city girl (when she’s not a beach girl), Stephanie has researched the best Mexican restaurants in El Centro where our hotel is located. Chili’s is not on the list, but Marco, the Film Forward partner in Mexicali, promises us that we will have incredible Chinese food when we cross the border. Chinese? He’s serious. There is a large Chinese population in Mexicali who all speak Spanish, of course, and have a developed a unique cuisine that melds the two cultures. (More on Chinese-Mexican food after we indulge).
Marco is the founder of Mexicali Rose Media/Arts Center and he is part of a burgeoning art scene just beyond the other side of the fence. We are told there is a border fence that winds its way through the largest mass of sand dunes in California known as Glamis. The border crossings, both legal and illegal, create massive traffic each day. The legal crossings can cause up to a two-hour wait in traffic – think about that! You live in Mexicali, you work in Imperial Valley. You have to be at work at 8:00 AM. Sometimes you need to get up at 3:30 just to make it to work on time. That is how the day began for Marco for many years. Now he gratefully has received a grant that allows him to work full-time as an arts and community activist and educator.
One story of a border crossing tells of an Evil Kneivel like ramp that was (surreptitiously) constructed in the night so a car could speed up the ramp and fly over the border fence. The next morning the car was found precariously balanced in mid-air between Mexico and California – the driver and passengers nowhere in sight.
Stephanie shares with Marco a couple of contacts she made in Los Angeles when marketing (in my former life at Fox Searchlight Pictures) La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon) directed by Patricia Riggen. Patrica is also part of this year’s Film Forward program with and will be traveling to China and Jordan. We are happy to share graffiti/muralist information with Marco and to already be making connections across borders that Film Forward inspires.
Stories, ideas, artists swirl around in the conversation barely two hours into our Film Forward adventure and we haven’t even left the boundaries of the El Centro shopping center.
Tuesday, February 26
Stephanie goes off to Imperial Valley High School with director Jerry Rothwell and the Film Forward contingent to screen Jerry’s documentary Town Of Runners. [see Jerry’s blog post]
I find a smooth asphalt parking lot in the vast mall and put in an hour of loosening up my body and spirit for the day ahead.
We all convene for lunch at Soba’s Mexican Grill and more than satisfy our craving for local Mexican food.
My first screening for Bones Brigade is at the Imperial Valley Campus of San Diego State University. Most of the audience is made of students with a few (former skateboarding) professors. Most of these students are not skateboarders. Stephanie has a long conversation after the film with a young female artist and her guy friend who is a mathematician.
There are two shades to a Q&A following a film. The first is when everyone stays in their seats and asks questions as part of the audience experience; the second is the intimate conversations that take place as folks are exiting.
Audiences tend to be shy, so I find it is usually up to me to draw them out. What is always strange is that no one wants to get up to leave, but no one raises a hand with a question. Finally, a young man found his courage to break the ice. Questions ranged from asking about filmmaking, to skateboarding, to specifics about the characters in the film. For example, one asked, “Did you know beforehand that the guys on the Bones Brigade team would have what it takes to go the distance to follow their dreams?” This is a particularly important question as it is up to me to then answer in a way that engages each one of the students in the audience to give them something to take away to follow his or her dream.
As the audience walked out, many of them thanked us for bringing the film to them. The Imperial Valley movie theatres tend to offer primarily Hollywood blockbusters. It is rare to have a community experience to watch a documentary or independent film. Charla Teeters has been very inventive and resourceful in the partnership with Film Forward to shift the paradigm here.
Conventionally speaking, my next screening would rate as the worst presentation I have ever had: outside at night in February, 45 degrees, a dusty dirt lot, cold metal chairs and backless benches, air traffic overhead, a portable consumer DVD player projecting onto a plastic inflatable screen reminiscent of a front lawn blow-up Santa Claus. But it was this filmmaker’s heaven. Because this is where we really hop the fence. This is where Film Forward’s true brilliance is illuminated. An audience of men and women, boys and girls, skaters, filmmakers, artists, moms, dads and kids, all with big dreams.
During the Q&A they had questions about everything. We talked to them about filmmaking techniques, graffiti bombing, Shepard Fairey, favorite skate tricks. They expressed their cultural hunger for access not just to art, film, and music, but to the people who create these things. The internet is great, but it doesn’t share eye contact, it doesn’t put its arm around you for a photo. (They even wanted photos with my wife!)
Film Forward’s gift was palpable because it is willing to get down and dirty. This is not a gilded idea, but more like a filmmaker’s flea market. We’re excited to take this energy infusion with us through the rest of the week.