Los Punks: We Are All We Have is a documentary that takes us into the backyard punk scene of Boyle Heights, East L.A. and South Central Los Angeles. We get to know the passionate, hard-working young people of this largely Latino community who keep this incredible scene going strong: Nacho, a dedicated promoter who's the lead singer of Corrupted Youth, Alex of the band Psyk Ward, who is also learning to be a chef, and April, a 15-year old promoter, to name just a few. We learn about their backgrounds, families, motivations, challenges and hopes, and the purpose and belonging the scene brings to their lives.
Do you remember the first L.A. backyard punk show you went to upon becoming aware of this scene?
It’s really important that I give credit to the people that created and maintained the scene for four decades before I was able to attend my first show… When I became aware of the scene, and I had someone take me to my first show, honestly, it was just amazing. Everything resonated with me: the energy, the amount of people, the amount of young people at a show was astonishing, the amount of bands, I think there were six bands slated to play that show, and a lot of people came early, there was a table where people were hand-making and selling patches, a lot of the young punks were wearing T-shirts and patches from the local bands – not just big punk bands – but from the local bands as well, so it was a scene where everybody knew each other, it was a huge community, it was all happening in the backyard of a super cool house in East L.A., completely, in my opinion, under the radar, but in their opinion, completely normal, so it felt very secret but also very intimate and special.
There were hundreds of kids at the show supporting the bands and some of the drummers were playing on lawn chairs, it felt like this scene needed to be there, it was important. The bands were playing with whatever they can, however they can, and this massive, huge audience was there to support them... It felt very loyal, in my opinion, this is exactly what music should about.
Those qualities - loyalty, community - sound really inspiring.
On one hand, yeah, I was really excited by the fact that everybody was wearing each other’s T-shirts and patches. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the punks will still fight at shows. These shows can get pretty crazy. So depending on how you want to see the shows, if you wanted to be negative about it you could say, ‘What are you talking about, we don’t support each other, we’re always fighting.’ But I try to see things in a bigger picture. To me, family is fighting. When you’re in a family you’re open, honest, passionate, balls-out. I see the scene as that: this incredible, definable, positive support, wearing each other’s shirts and patches, hundreds of young people showing up for every show. And then the fighting and bickering, to me, is just an extension of family. In my eyes, that’s exactly what family does. If you're healthy. If you're not in a healthy family then you just don't talk about anything.
So how did this film project come about?
It was very serendipitous. I went to my very first backyard punk show literally at the same time Vans said, 'Hey we’d like you to participate in our 2014 documentary campaign, do you have any ideas?' And I said, 'Well, yeah, there’s an amazing scene of amazing humans in East L.A., I would like to document them and tell their stories,' and Vans said, 'Absolutely, that sounds great.' So we did five webisodes that were used in the 2014 documentary campaign, and those were so successful that Vans commissioned to do a proper full-length movie.
Beyond the punk scene, as a filmmaker, what was it about this story and the characters that you took beyond this project and into your life?
Well, you know, I’ve been interested in heavy metal and hardcore and punk my whole life. I’m equally interested in people as human beings, I’m always asking people random questions, I’m pretty nosy, I always like to get to the bottom of what motivates people… I just wanted to get to the bottom of the individuals that contribute to the scene now. What are their families like? What are their dreams and goals?
You're also a photographer. Is there something particular about an image or a subject that inspires or compels you to want to explore it?
I'm drawn to things by a gut feeling, I spent years shooting advertising photography [with] really awesome women but predominantly white women. And I am myself a white woman, and personally I feel there's just got to be more stories out there! Am I the right person to tell them? That's up for debate. But if I have an opportunity to share a story, I would rather tell a story that might not have been given its proper venue previously. I feel like there's a lot of the same stories being shared out there, and ideally, I'd like to share some stories that haven't been told yet, for better or for worse. Is it always a good idea to have an outsider tell the stories? Is it always a good idea to have a white lady tell stories about a predominantly Latino scene? Those are things people far and wide can discuss amongst themselves. But from where I sit, I had an opportunity. Vans literally said I could work on a documentary on anything I wanted, and I felt this is just an incredibly vital and important story to be told… There are a million different ways to do things, but from where I sit it's really important to me to not speak for the punks, not speak for the community and be as sensitive as possible to the words being used when the story's being told.
What do you hope Montreal audiences take away from the film?
Montreal has a massive heavy metal and punk community. Something as simple as maybe someone in the audience learning about a band they've never heard of before that they really like and going to Facebook and check out this band, that's really cool too. But more than anything, I want people to be inspired. I want the audience to see how all of these young people get together and do everything themselves, create a scene for themselves… I want people to be inspired and to invest in their scene, to make their scene the best scene they can be, to keep progressing, to keep pushing. Maybe they'll want to invite some of the bands to come play shows in Montreal. Who knows, maybe a promoter will see some of the bands and want to invite them to Canada, that would be cool. I hope the most opportunities for the bands and the musicians within the scene and the subjects of the movie.
Photo credit: Andrew Gomez (behind-the-scenes) + Angela Boatwright