by Kimberlie Robinson
Newsletter writer and editor
Black Association of Documentary Filmmakers West (BADWest)
from BADWest newsletter Volume 4, Issue 4, April 2011 pages 2-3 & 7

 

April 6th Screening & Q&A

"Bridging the Divide: Tom Bradley & the Politics of Race"

At the April BADWest meeting BADWest member, Donna Brown Guillaume, led an informative and lively Q&A with Academy Award nominee, Lyn Goldfarb (Producer/Director/Writer), Emmy winner, Alison Sotomayor (Producer/Research Director/Writer), Michelle Crenshaw (Director of Photography) and BADWest member, Lillian E. Benson (Editor) about their film on the life and legacy of Mayor Tom Bradley. The discussion focused on the process of creating a film about a individual on whom there has been virtually no scholarly research and the true impact of Bradley on national politics. The filmmakers screened 20 minutes of "Bridging the Divide." Also in attendance was Lydia Shane, who was a member of Bradley's press corps during his last administration.

In the spirit of Bradley's administrations, the filmmakers represent a diverse and dynamic group of individuals who share a vision of showing the world the true legacy of Tom Bradley. The filmmakers stated they were open and welcome to any and all feedback as well as ideas to increase the national appeal of their film. For more information about "Bridging the Divide," please visit. http://www.mayortombradley.com/. Here are some highlights from the conversation.

Donna Brown Guillaume: What was it about Tom Bradley that made you think he deserved to have film made about him?

Lyn Goldfarb: I grew up in Los Angeles and felt I needed to understand my city better. And I could not have a complete understanding of the city until I looked at the life and legacy of Tom Bradley. I also felt that he wasn't being remembered for what he did or who he really was.

Alison Sotomayor: Surprisingly there are no scholarly biographies about Bradley. So, there were big gaps of research that needed to be done before we even began filming. I realized that Bradley's legacy particularly during Obama's run had been distorted and reduced to the "Bradley Effect." Bradley was much more that that. I wanted to educate people about what he really did.

DBG: Why do you think he's been overlooked?

LG: Racism. If he'd done what he did in New York, he'd been celebrated long ago.

AS: Yes. I think that is part of the reason why it's been so difficult to convince fundraisers that this is a national story.

DBG: "Bridging the Divide" is an interesting title. Where did it come from?

LG: It came from conversations with chief scholar, Raphael J. Sonenshein who wrote Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles. His book was about Bradley's first and second run for mayor. The only way Bradley won the election was by building coalitions. No particular ethnic group was the majority in Los Angles at the time.

AS: Bradley obviously was very close to the black community. However, he also bridged over into the white world, the Asian world, Chicano, everything. He was a non-threatening type of man and people really liked and respected him.

DBG: When I watched the film, I'd almost forgotten about Chief Parker, Chief Daryl Gates and Mayor Yorty. In a way these men were Bradley's racist nemesis throughout his mayoral term. How did that effect his tenure and his political strategy?

LG: Bradley had tremendous enemies. And you have to think about what was happening at the time he ran for mayor the first time. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy had just been assassinated. There were student protests, the Black Panthers. There were the East Los Angeles walkouts and anti-war demonstrations. Even though he'd been in the LAPD twenty-one years, his efforts to reform them were thwarted at every turn. It wasn't until the Rodney King beating towards the end of his term as mayor when he was finally able to push through some significant changes.

AS: Bradley had tremendous endurance and patience. That's why he stayed with the LAPD all those years. He stayed because he wanted to be a mentor for all those up and coming black officers even though he only rose to the post of lieutenant.

Lydia Shane: The Mayor was fearless. He always had a vision of building a transportation system in LA. The World Cup was here because of Tom Bradley. He never wanted to hear how things couldn't be done. He always wanted to hear how things could be done.

DBG: Do you have an idea of how long the finished film will be and do you plan on interviewing people who were critical of Bradley?

LG: We plan on the film being about ninety minutes. And yes, we will interview people who were critical of him. Any good documentary always has oppositional stories. Our initial focus was to speak to the elderly and of course members of his family, including his daughter. During this next round of interviews we plan on speaking to fifteen to twenty new people. Sometimes getting criticism can be difficult. You begin to interview people and you can see them beginning to censor themselves. Sometimes people are uncomfortable with being recorded.

DBG: What are some of the challenges of being the DP and the editor?

Michelle Crenshaw: Well the most challenging thing has been getting all the archival footage before some of the older people passed away. Then there were a lot of cancellations because of illness, you know, having to work around that. You have to work with the illness and give the elderly their integrity. Also, initially a variety of cameras were used.

Lillian Benson: As an editor, it has always been important to me to tell the truth and make it interesting. Also, when you're working with three different people you have to know how to negotiate. If two people like it, it's in.

DBG: What kind of equipment did you use?

LB: The film was shot in many different formats. Once you switch it over to digital it doesn't make a difference when it comes to editing. Then there is the issue of archiving the interviews. Really tape is still the best medium for preservation since digital is so new. So what we've been doing is shooting digital but then figuring out how to archive it back to tape.

DBG: In what other ways do you see the project developing?

LG: Oh, there is going to be an interactive component including an educational film geared towards middle and high school students. We also want to create a "Tell Your Tom Bradley Stories" piece something in the vein of NPR's Storycorps. We want all these interviews to be put into an oral history archive that other groups and individuals will be able access. Another thing we'd love to do is create an interactive exhibit in the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX."