The Garden: L.A. Politics Trumps Urban Farmers

Actor James Cromwell and Congressman Dennis Kucinich (right) pay a visit to the garden.

Another eco-bore. Municipal politics in Los Angeles have never been known for transparency, nor have politicians always been accountable to those who elected them. But this documentary fails to tease out the dirty particulars of how a city-owned lot in South Central L.A., bought to be a garbage incinerator site in the ’80s, somehow reverted back to its owner, and at what price. It’s more insinuation than journalism. After the 1992 Rodney King verdict riots, the vacant 13-acre site was transformed into a community pea patch, the largest in the U.S. (Aerial shots are amazing; there’s no other green in South Central.) Most of the farmers interviewed are Latino, while the politicians who sold the parcel back—in a closed-door 2003 meeting—are black, with a different set of voters (and donors) in mind. Covering several years of protests, courtroom motions, and celebrity photo ops (hello, Willie Nelson and Dennis Kucinich), The Garden earnestly follows the story, but only from one side. The gardeners, chanting their Zapatista slogans, are noble. The pols are likely corrupt. And the land owner is an asshole. But the political calculus among these warring parties remains murky. When Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa shows up (a guy who speaks the gardeners’ language), he gives a nice speech, then disappears. He has other votes to chase, other battles to fight, in wealthier neighborhoods elsewhere in the city.