Les Blank

Les Blank's handheld camera takes us into the hidden world of tea by following world-renowned tea expert David Lee Hoffman to some of the most remote regions of China in search of the best handmade teas in the world. Unable to find anything but insipid tea bags in the U.S., Hoffman began traveling to China to find tea for himself. In the process, he discovered the rarity of good, handmade tea, even in China, where the ancient craft of making tea has given way to mass production.

Hoffman struggles against language barriers and Byzantine business codes to convince the Chinese that the farmers make better tea and that their craft should be honored and preserved. This craft cannot be learned from a book, but has been handed down through generations of tea makers for thousands of years. He drags the reluctant tea factory aficionados up a lush, terraced mountainside in their blue suits and penny loafers to bring them face to face with those "dirty" farmers. In an ironic twist, Hoffman reintroduces them to their own country and one of its oldest traditions.

As his first film shot digitally, Les Blank was a one-man crew who blended in with the environment, taking his famous fly-on-the-wall approach even further. Combined with scenes edited into a seamless flow of live events, this film pushes beyond the boundaries of Blank's earlier work. A handheld camera provides an unpolished intimacy with the farmers' faces and their tea-stained hands.

The film moves from a modern, urban setting to a pastoral China rarely glimpsed by westerners. Scenes shot in cinema verite are interwoven with more formal presentations about the fundamentals of tea with tea authorities James Norwood Pratt, Gaetano Kazuo Maida, and Winnie W. Yu. This helps make clear what is at stake, and thereby lends weight to Hoffman's endeavor. It is hoped that the viewer will feel as if they have been somewhere they've never been before, and ask themselves what is out there that is worth preserving.

"Don't look too far forward before you take a look back and see what gems you already possess."


Scott Hamilton Kennedy

The fourteen-acre community garden at 41st and Alameda in South Central Los Angeles is the largest of its kind in the United States. Started as a form of healing after the devastating L.A. riots in 1992, the South Central Farmers have since created a miracle in one of the country’s most blighted neighborhoods. Growing their own food. Feeding their families. Creating a community. But now, bulldozers are poised to level their 14-acre oasis.

The Garden follows the plight of the farmers, from the tilled soil of this urban farm to the polished marble of City Hall. Mostly immigrants from Latin America, from countries where they feared for their lives if they were to speak out, we watch them organize, fight back, and demand answers:

Why was the land sold to a wealthy developer for millions less than fair-market value? Why was the transaction done in a closed-door session of the LA City Council? Why has it never been made public? The powers-that-be have the same response: “The garden is wonderful, but there is nothing more we can do.”

The Garden has the pulse of verité with the narrative pull of fiction, telling the story of the country’s largest urban farm, backroom deals, land developers, green politics, money, poverty, power, and racial discord. The film explores and exposes the fault lines in American society and raises crucial and challenging questions about liberty, equality, and justice for the poorest and most vulnerable among us.