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L.A.'s Radical Past Recalled on Video

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/68632794 w=350&h=193]

Who are the people whose stories are captured in the Los Angeles Activist Video Archive? One of them persuaded Yassar Arafat to recognize Israel. Another organized an airlift of food to members of the American Indian Movement at Wounded Knee. Others have started centers for people with HIV and AIDS patients, pioneered the field of Chicano Studies, resisted the draft, formed worker-owned collectives. Members of this group were subpoenaed by HUAC, arrested as Freedom Riders, surveilled by the FBI, indicted as conspirators. They fought for women’s rights, Black Power, the California coastline, the right to die. They combated gangs with jobs, desegregated schools, ran for electoral office, won Academy Awards, and wrote books.  Not coincidentally, many of them have been part of the Liberty Hill community as donor-activists, supporters and grant

Who are they? They are the Angelenos who share histories and political memories in video interviews shot and compiled by Julie Thompson and Brogan De Paor, creators of theLos Angeles Activist Video Archive and longtime Liberty Hill supporters.

Since 2009, Julie and Brogan have recorded hundreds of hours of interviews with activists and philanthropists including  Bill Zimmerman, Max Palevsky, Jackie Goldberg, Mike Farrell, Rabbi Leonard Beerman, Father Gregory Boyle, Lila Garrett, Betty and Stanley Sheinbaum, Ramona Ripston, Oneil Canon, Rudy Acuna and others, names drawn from a wish-list that numbers 200 and is growing. The brief biographies on the L.A. Activist Video Archives home page just hint at the depth and breadth of the contributions of the interviewees—it seems like we’d hardly have a civil society in Los Angeles today if it hadn’t been for the struggles and achievements of these people.

The video archive is very much a work in progress because shooting the interviews and providing access to excerpts on the Archive’s website are just the first of planned series of steps including transcribing the material and developing an index of all the organizations, campaigns, news events and people discussed.

The project grew out of videos the co-founders produced about honorees for Liberty Hill’s annual Upton Sinclair Dinner. “The first video bio we did for the Upton Sinclair Dinner was Oliver Stone’s (1990). We were interested in Oliver’s films but we also were interested in what made him tick politically… The dinner videos were mini-documentaries. We tried to give dinner audiences an unconditional understanding of why we were honoring people. The people Liberty Hill honored had a real connection to social change and that gave them legitimacy as honorees.”

Throughout their professional careers, Julie and Brogan have used their media savvy skills to help grassroots groups get out their social message and make better known the remarkable and often inspiring stories behind the social issues those groups represent.  Julie has worked as a filmmaker, event producer and media consultant, and Brogan as a political filmmaker.

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The L.A. Video Archive is the couple’s personal project, undertaken around professional commitments. In fact, we interviewed Julie when they’d just returned from the Cannes Film Festival, which they’d attended because of Julie’s role as executive producer of Nebraska, a film directed by Alexander Payne from a script by Bob Nelson and produced by Ron Yerxa and Albert Berger. Delighted that actor Bruce Dern received Cannes’ Best Actor award for his work in the film, Julie was self-deprecating and funny about the contrast between the living-room interviews with lefties that she and Brogan are so passionate about and the film-industry circus where “we had to pay $50 a day to park our car.”

It’s just one of several images of Julie and Brogan working inside and outside Hollywood at the same time. Their first partnership was on a 1983 documentary conceived and executive-produced by the actor Mike Farrell, and the film’s production work unfolded in offices on the lot where MASH was being filmed. That documentary, about Allard K. Lowenstein, aired on PBS and was reviewed by Christian Science Monitor as “a prime example of political and politicized biography.” The reviewer also said that “the determinedly serious show” used more than 30 interviews to tell the activist-turned-politician’s story—an abundance of information that “caught much of the heady, single-minded essence” of its subject.

Even today, when sound bites rule, Julie and Brogan aren’t interested in being minimalists. “There was a direct connection between the dinner videos and the archive videos,” says Julie, “The main difference is now we can spend eight hours with a subject instead of telling their stories in five to seven minutes.

“We’re storytellers and we appreciate detailed, compassionate stories of protest, dissent, struggles by stakeholders for a more equitable society.”

The Los Angeles Activist Video Archive is sustained by a fund administered by Liberty Hill. Julie and Brogan fundraise through house parties, individual donors and a sustainer campaign where every dollar raised up to $25,000 per year is matched by the Chino Cienega Foundation.

The founders expect that the archive will have scholarly uses and become a valued resource, but it’s a hands-on, grassroots effort. Lately they’ve been taking inspiration from a quote by the Uraguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, who said, “No history is mute.  No matter how much they own it, break it, and lie about it, human history refuses to shut its mouth.  Despite deafness and ignorance, the time that was continues to live inside the time that is.”

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