The Directors of National Geographic's 'L.A. 92' Speak About Their Visceral New Documentary [Interview]
This month is the 25-year anniversary of the L.A. riots, the brutal uprising that occurred after the four police officers who beat Rodney King were acquitted of excessive force. The riots lasted five days and caused over a $1 billion worth of damages.
Throughout this month, there will be five documentaries centered on the riots; most are quite good. However, none are as visceral and gripping as National Geographic’s L.A. ’92, which premieres Sunday, April 30th at 9 p.m. EST.
What makes this documentary so impactful is that there is no commentary. The documentary was shot using only archival footage and newly recovered home footage. There is no one narrating the movie.
L.A. ’92 was directed by filmmakers T.J. Martin and Daniel Lindsay. Okayplayer recently sat down with the two to talk about their approach; how they got some of this lost footage; the difference between the Watts Riots of 1965 and the L.A. Riots; and the visuals behind the coverage.
Check out the interview below.
Okayplayer: What made the both of you think you can even do this?
Daniel Lindsay: I don’t think we knew that we could. At a certain point, TJ cut together the beginning idea of the sequence from the day of the verdict. And when we watched that we were like ‘OK, this works. You can follow what’s going on. You’re not lost, necessarily.’ It was making you, the audience member, be engaged in the experience. So instead of being told things, you are experiencing and making these discoveries and connections yourself.
T. J. Martin: I don’t know if we fully knew what we got ourselves into as far as the attempt of the approach. The producers kind of courted us, asking us if we were interested in making a film knowing that the 25th anniversary was coming up. And they had sent us kind of a sizzle reel. And in that reel there’s just a lot of very raw moments that I think — we were around 12 at the time — we forgot existed. That was kind of the first sign that we wanted to take a unique approach. You know, maybe there’s a possibility that there will be more like this, or we could access raw footage, not just material that was broadcast. But if we could combine that with photography, with radio, with anything that is now seen as citizen journalism, maybe we can kind of stitch together a narrative. And the approach
We start thinking about it as a symphony. We open ourselves up by trying to operate in movements. So within those movements, you’re hitting one story beat but then you can branch out: I’m going to get a perspective from this gentleman in front of Simi Valley; I’m going to get the perspective of the LAPD. And then you’re just constantly interweaving those perspectives through the course of the film and that’s all of a sudden creating the narrative.
OKP: How hard was it getting some of this home video footage?
DL: I keep describing it as detective work. Like, you see a news interview with somebody from the time, and there on the street and they have their video camera. And the news media is interviewing them, and they put his name up. And then you’re like ‘Google that guy’s name!’ And like a Facebook page comes up and it says, ‘Los Angeles.’ And you send off an email ‘I don’t know if you’re this person or not…blah blah.’ And every once in awhile one of those people responds and says, ‘Oh yeah, I have those tapes.’ And you have to go through those tapes and then you realize like a 100th of this is maybe even usable.
So we had a team of four, five people that really dedicated just as much as their life as we did to putting this together, to just finding that stuff. And we’re getting stuff all the way up to the last second.
TJM: A lot of it is just persistence. It doesn’t necessarily mean that when you reach out to somebody that they are cooperating with your timeline. So, yeah, material is still coming all the way until the very end, and you’re kind of going back and revising scenes.