Westboun lane of the 10 Freeway as it passes Ramona Gardens (background). Photo by Antonio Mejías-Rentas

A documentary about the history of activism in Boyle Heights premieres this weekend at the Downtown Film Festival L.A., nearly nine years after its filmmakers began working on the project.

“East LA Interchange” will screen Sunday, July 26, at the Regent Theater in downtown Los Angeles. Actor Danny Trejo narrates the feature-length documentary, which includes interviews with key personalities with Boyle Heights connections, such as rapper will.i.am, playwright Josefina López and Father Gregory Boyle.

The film takes its title from the famous freeway interchange that nearly cut the neighborhood in half and which, according to filmmaker Betsy Kalin, is one of several external forces that periodically threatened to destroy Boyle Heights.

“All of these external forces –the freeway, environmental pollution, redlining, the Japanese internment–all of them have really affected the community, yet the community continues to fight,” said the director. “Boyle Heights is still a vibrant community.”

According to Kalin, who began researching the film almost nine years ago, the neighborhood’s stand against gentrification is rooted in Boyle Heights’ long history of activism.

“What I found so interesting was the history of the neighborhood,” said Kalin.  “I was really drawn to the activist history, because Boyle Heights had socialists, communists, Trotskyites, anarchists, Mexican revolutionaries…  Everybody has this activist past.”

‘East LA Interchange’ directed by Betsy Kalin
photo by Chris Chew

Kalin filmed some scenes for her film this year during a meeting with Boyle Heights Beat youth reporters and used that footage as the film’s last shot. She said her goal is to have her documentary screened for high school students throughout Boyle Heights.

The director said financial restraints prolonged the film’s production longer than she and her partners expected, but that she was glad that it was finally getting its first public outing at the Downtown Film Festival L.A.

“It’s perfect,” she enthused. “It’s literally across the bridge from Boyle Heights. It’s the perfect location, and so many people can come and see it. We really used a lot of community resources, so it’s fantastic to have the film out there.”

YouTube video

“East LA Interchange screens Sunday, July 26, at 3:00 p.m., at the Regent Theater, 448 South Main St., Los Angeles. More information: www.dffla.org

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Antonio Mejías-Rentas

Antonio Mejías-Rentas is a Senior Editor at Boyle Heights Beat, where he mentors teenage journalists, manages the organization’s website and covers local issues. A veteran bilingual journalist, he's...

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