The power of Scott Hamilton Kennedy's 2002 documentary OT: Our Town lay in the way Kennedy unobtrusively captured the racial tensions at Compton's Dominguez High School, and in the ways that students and faculty used art to celebrate difference and transcend animosities. In his Oscar-nominated sophomore doc The Garden, power plays unfold along the lines of backroom politics, race, and poverty; nothing like the elixir of art saves the day. The film follows the years-long struggle over 14 acres of land between Latino farmers, on one hand, and L.A. city government and a powerful businessman on the other. From that David and Goliath setup, filmed in a straightforward style on a shoestring budget, emerge fascinating character studies that underscore both the best and worst of human nature. The farmers coalesce into a formidable political entity; community activists are revealed to be shady power brokers; and the embattled turn on one another. What makes the film worth seeing is how Kennedy's camera captures a complex assortment of real-life personalities and hidden motivations, which are made all the more staggering for being slowly unpeeled (although the film never drags). The Garden makes it clear that, regardless of the battle's outcome, there is victory in the fact that the farmers fought at all.
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