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Hacienda Heights Art + Film Lab: A Travelogue from the LACMA9 Outpost

Hacienda Heights lab workshop. | Photo: Kate Marks.

In partnership with LACMA9 Art + Film Lab LACMA9 Art + Film Lab, in residence in nine communities, offers free art and film workshops, an oral history project, outdoor film screenings, plus a day of free admission to LACMA.

Tucked away in the eastern edge of Los Angeles County is Hacienda Heights, an unincorporated city of approximately 55,000 residents. It is the site of many a splendor and hyperbole: the Hsi Lai Temple (the biggest Buddhist temple in the Western Hemisphere), Puente Hills Mall (where the most notable scenes from the first "Back to the Future" were filmed), and Fergie's (the blonde Black Eyed Pea) hometown. Incidentally, it is also the city where I spent my formative years. From late February through late March, Hacienda Heights was host to the fifth stop of LACMA's Art+Film Lab.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Hacienda Heights was one of the legs that would see the Jorge Pardo-designed sculpture/lab. Back in the 1990s, nary a notable event passed through Hacienda Heights. The bedroom community -- in light traffic, it is a mere 15-20 minutes from downtown Los Angeles -- culturally felt like a thousand miles from whatever was happening in the city (this was before the proliferation of the Internet as a cultural bridge). A comedian -- I think it was Patton Oswalt -- said something about growing up in the suburbs to which I could relate: you're neither part of the frenzied metropolis of a city nor are you in the remove of the country. As a suburb dweller, you're stuck in between states.

The 60 freeway is the main artery of Hacienda Heights. It is the line that makes possible the 15-to-20 minute drive to downtown Los Angeles, the connection to the 10 freeway (and, thusly, the beach), and all the major cities in the San Gabriel Valley. Off that thoroughfare, the number of exits that encompass Hacienda Heights proper can be counted on one hand: Seventh Avenue, Hacienda Boulevard, and Azusa Avenue. The area off Seventh Avenue opens up to the rugged Turnbull Canyon neighborhood, Hacienda Boulevard is a mix of both industrial and low-lying residential, and Azusa Avenue is lined with the staples of suburbia: malls, chain restaurants, and warehouse stores.

Hacienda Heights lab workshop | Photo: Kate Marks
Hacienda Heights lab workshop. | Photo: Kate Marks.

Nestled off the freeway ramps are communities that are socially, ethnically, and culturally diverse. Hacienda Heights is one of the last cities that make up the San Gabriel Valley, home to some of the largest concentrations of Chinese outside of mainland China. The city also boasts nearly as many Asians as it does whites, and nearly half of its population is half Hispanic or Latino.

- By Linda Theung

At the start of rainy season, the LACMA9 Art+Film Lab made its way out to the "Heights" and nestled itself in William Steinmetz Park, just off Stimson Blvd. The Park houses the Steinmetz Senior Center, where L.A. County Parks and Rec staff deliver enrichment opportunities for community elders. Just before we arrived, the Center hosted a Valentine's Day Love Connection, with the winning contestants got swept off on a limo date to Benihana. Walking through the Center during karaoke hour, one might hear a Mandarin singer pin her heart upon an operatic octave. The Center's lunch hour offers a Chinese and an American menu, indistinguishable from one another on some days. Recently the menu featured headed fish and gai choy. After lunch, seniors often queue for a bread giveaway, followed by a round of bingo. The Lab staff grew fond of the daily rituals that marked time's passage here.

The Opening Night Celebration featured an impassioned, feels-so-nice musical set by Chicano Batman, followed by a screening of "These Birds Walk" (2013), a documentary by first-time filmmakers Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq. Set in Karachi, Pakistan, the film weaves a poetic, masterful tale of Omar, a runaway boy, and his friendship with Rafiullah, an ambulance driver. The film served up a wonderful Rx to the inflamed Pakistan of mass media. In a series of observational vignettes, kids, workers, and humanitarians are shown dealing with life and grappling with their sense of belonging in the world. (For those who missed These Birds Walk, the film will rescreen at the USC School of Cinematic Arts on Tuesday, April 8 at 7 p.m. The program is free and open to the public.)

A definite high point of the Hacienda Heights Lab was the video works produced by workshop participants. Lab workshops cover different aspects of film- and video-making, from cinematography to live action filmmaking to documentary techniques. With only an hour to film and another hour to edit, an eclectic mix of seniors and teens, many of them first-time filmmakers, produced impressive video works. On two separate days, two different participants make video portraits of their ninety-four year-old moms. Many people created documentaries on cultural landmarks, such as Hsi Lai Temple, Homestead Museum, and life in Steinmetz Park. Some created home-based essay films, lending intimate voiceovers over footage of cats and fifth grade "memory boxes." Lab teaching artist Kate Marks observed that the adults particularly seemed to enjoy the workshops. "It's as if they've been watered," she said.

The Lab shares a compilation reel here, with select community works made in Hacienda Heights and Monterey Park.

The Lab veers back west with the Montebello Art+Film Lab, launching Friday, April 4 at Montebello City Park, 199 S. Taylor Street in Montebello. The Opening Night Celebration sets off with an Open House (6-8 pm), followed by a live performance by Viento Callejero (7 pm). Formed in January 2013, this trio breaks down the rhythmic and melodic pulse of Cumbia Colombiana, Son Montuno, merengue, reggae, dance hall, and rock to create a new, urban tropical sound. Viento Callejero is Gloria Estrada on guitar, Federico Zuniga on bass, and Gabriel Villa on drums. They're slated to release their first album this summer, with Leah Gallegos (of Las Cafeteras), Martha Gonzalez (of Quetzal), and Eddika Organista (of El-Haru Kuroi) as guest singers.

Viento Callejero | Photo: Melissa I. Avilez
Viento Callejero. | Photo: Melissa I. Avilez.

The Night ends with an 8 p.m. outdoor screening of the 1987 film "La Bamba." Directed by Luis Valdez, the fictional film follows the ascent of Ritchie Valens, played by Lou Diamond Phillips, on his meteoric rise to stardom. Originating from the Montebello area, the band Los Lobos performed Valens' songs for the film's album. The Los Lobos bandmates continue to call the region home.

Montebello is the final East Side stop before the Lab heads toward South Central and beyond. The Lab continues its collaboration with Self Help Graphics, recording oral histories from affiliate artists. Below, we share an excerpt from two personal stories, given by Ernie Yerera and Yolanda Gonzalez. Both talk about how they found their voices as artists.

The full line-up for the Montebello Art+Film Lab can be found here.

On Saturday, April 19, we partner with the East L.A. Film Festival to co-present a shorts showcase. Trailers for two of the shorts, the essayistic "Everybody's Nuts" by Fabian Euresti, and fictional short "The Shooting Star Salesman" by Kico Velarde, are presented here.

Kico's imaginative short features an ageless, 19th century salesman of shooting stars, struggling to overcome his ailing faith in magic.

Other program shorts include Daniel Carerra's "Primera Comunion," "The Seawall" by Mason Richards, "A Day at the Opera" by Juan Pablo Zaramella, and "Manahan" by Kelman Duran.

- By Hanul Bahm

The Hacienda Heights Art+Film Lab would like to thank Steinmetz Park Recreation Manager Susan Brown, Parks and Rec Leader Khadija Goulhiane, Recreation Supervisor Margaret Trujillo, Fourth District Deputy Dickie Simmons, the Hacienda Heights Improvement Association, and the staff of the Steinmetz Senior Center for partnering with us. We'd also like to thank Oscilloscope Laboratories, Self Help Graphics, Viento Callejero, Fabian Euresti, Kico Velarde, and LACMA9 Lab staff for contributing media to this blog.

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