TEDxUCLA 2014: Open 2.0

The sound we see


About Lisa & Paolo

Paolo Davanzo and Lisa Marr are filmmakers/musicians/writers/educators whose work is a catalyst for creative collaboration and positive social change. Originally from Italy and Canada respectively, they currently live and work in Los Angeles where they run the Echo Park Film Center, a non-profit neighborhood media arts center. As The Here & Now they travel the world, bringing movies and music to the masses.


Paolo: Okay, so we are partners in love, we are partners in life, we are partners in work, so.

Lisa: All of the above is true. Here’s to love, right?

Paolo: And we are told to stay in this red circle, which is kinda magical.

Lisa: It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be hard, but we’re going to do it.

Paolo: Okay. So now we’ll take it down a level, sorry the intro is kind of silly, but we do really appreciate everyone being here, so we’ll jump on into it. I announced at my mother’s funeral that I was going to open a community film center in the city of Los Angeles. It was a place similar to this, full of neighbors and friends and loved ones. She had dedicated her life to helping others, to “replenishing the system” as she always liked to say. And the best way for me to honor her love and her legacy was to combine the three joys in my life which were education, community activism, and filmmaking.

Paolo: So we opened a place in Echo Park called the Echo Park Film Center. Oh, you know, some movie should be playing right now. So do I press this? I’m sorry. We’re filmmakers. There we go. Beautiful. So yeah, watch this, let it flow over you. So we opened a place in Echo Park called the Echo Park Film Center. It wasn’t the video center or the digital media archive, it was called the Film Center because we love motion picture film and we’ve been using it since the day we opened 13 years ago.

Lisa: So it’s not exactly the easiest time for film right now. Film schools are tossing out their 16 millimeter projectors and cameras in the trash. And thanks for those of you who call us and say “It’s in the trash, come pick it up.” And film labs are getting rid of their equipment, they’re selling it for scrap metal. And even the film studios are starting to say things like “From now on, it’s going to be digital releases only.”

Paolo: So we do hear it all the time. Why shoot film? You can make a film on your phone, you can upload it in a matter of seconds, it’s quite easy, it’s quite accessible, right? Because we love motion picture film.

Lisa: We love it!


Paolo: We love it. And we believe it matters more than ever. So why bother?

Lisa: Well, because it’s important.

Paolo: It’s a very important thing. This is where… dun da da dun! Thank you. It’s been five hours. I think we need to fight some beachballs.

Lisa: Since the very beginning…

Paolo: Since the very beginning, since day one, we taught free filmmaking classes to young people from all over the city. So regardless of background and age and experience, we celebrated everyone and they’ve come in either to our physical place in Echo Park or the itinerant EPFC Film-Mobile which was an old school bus that we gutted and turned into a traveling film festival and film school on wheels. It’s parked out front. It runs on veggie oil, has solar panels, it is the future. So if you want to take a tour of it, it’s out front.

Lisa: We’ll be out there after the TEDx talk. And then so in the fall of 2010, we did this project called The Sound We See: A Los Angeles City Symphony. And the idea was to go back in time but create a contemporary view of the city symphony genre, which was really popular in the 1920s when film was still pretty new. And it looked at the dynamic urban experience and kind of incorporated these innovative cinematic technologies.

Paolo: Lovely. So we had 37 filmmakers, ages 11 to 19, who shot a black-and-white film, shot it silent, had never used these funky old windup cameras, and ran all over the city of Los Angeles making this movie, which you’re seeing on the left there.

Lisa: So obviously, this is a generation that’s grown up completely immersed in digital technology and culture. And when we talk to these students who are 12 and 13 years old, they’re telling us things like, “I don’t remember a time before Facebook” and “I’ve got several online identities” and “Email is for old people.” So for them, you know, they’ve been force-fed this diet of McVideo their whole life and all of a sudden here comes analog film, and it’s a completely different story.

Paolo: It really is. It’s a whole new experience that takes a dramatic leap of faith. These young people said how precious film was, how special it was, how it really forced them to slow down and take stock of what they were doing and take advantage of what they were doing in their lives.

Lisa: So that got us thinking about the importance of the means of production. So radical visionaries from Gandhi to the Black Panthers have talked about the crucial importance of the community owning the means of production and technology. And that got us dreaming about this kind of slow film movement that could engage populations around the world and they could make film together on film that would be creative, inclusive, and sustainable. Could it work?

Paolo: So the first stop on this world tour top right is Rotterdam, Holland, where we work predominantly with youth of color in this largely immigrant city. And not only did they make the film, but they wanted to see themselves represented on the screen, to be acknowledged, to be celebrated.

Lisa: Then we went to Hanoi, In northern Vietnam there is absolutely no contemporary analog film culture or resources. So we had to bring everything we needed to make the project. There, the participants not only shot the film but they processed it and cut it all themselves, turning a tiny bathroom into a film lab.

Paolo: And just recently we returned from Guwahati in Assam in India, and the participants took it a step further. They used eco-friendly ingredients instead of the traditional Kodak chemicals to process the film. And we also left all the resources with them — the cameras, the projectors, and the films — so they could keep making films in the future.

Lisa: So even though the project framework is the same, each film is different because each community uses the process and takes from it what they need, and they also push the process in new directions and make new discoveries with it. And what ends up happening and what you’re seeing here is that suddenly all these films have started talking to each other. There’s a conversation going on globally about both local stories but also these kind of universal truths that emerge.

Paolo: And that’s the foundation of community cinema. It’s not about fancy gizmos or gadgets. It’s about a compelling human story and this magical chemistry that we have in front of us.

Lisa: Absolutely. Because with analog film, no two frames are alike. They’re all individual. It’s organic. And the simple act of shining light through emulsion draws humans towards it like moths to a flame because film — analog film — is actually a living thing and it’s telling a living story, and our hearts respond to it.

Paolo: So we have a recipe we’re gonna share with you.

Lisa: Yes, we do.

Paolo: From the from the cookbook of the cinematic revolution. We’re leaving the red circle but that’s okay, we’re going over here.

Lisa: Is that okay? Okay. We’re okay, we’re outside the circle. So yes, here it is. It’s very exciting.

Paolo: We’re gonna add it together. What is it composed of?

Lisa: So it’s basically just three ingredients, super simple. They’re inexpensive, they’re eco-friendly, and you probably have them in your kitchen right now.

Paolo: And you can also do it with tea.

Lisa: Well wait a minute, We’ve got to start with this stuff.

Paolo: Oh we’ve got to start. But you could have it with tea, with potatoes — 

Lisa: Yeah, washing soda right here. And then we got a little bit of vitamin C and then coffee. So yeah, the coffee is the thing that you can mix it up. So you don’t just need to use coffee. You could use tea, or…

Paolo: Red wine.

Lisa: Fruit juice.

Paolo: Potatoes.

Lisa: Coca-Cola.

Paolo: Plants from your garden.

Lisa: And even seaweed from the beach.

Paolo: On the beach.

Lisa: So let’s mix it up.

Paolo: We’re gonna mix it up. You all excited? (applause) Yeah, I’m feeling it! We’re gonna mix it up. Okay, water first.

Lisa: So when you know this recipe then you’re all official filmmakers, right? So, you know, that’s okay. So one liter of water, here it goes. And then we’ve got 54 grams of washing soda. Now watching soda is just baking soda with some of the moisture taken out of it, so if you’ve got baking soda, you can do that. And then 15 grams of vitamin C powder. There it is. And then 40 grams of coffee.

Paolo: Is this going to blow up in a second? It might. We’re going to see.

Lisa: Okay. So we’re going to stir it all together. Okay, so we’re stirring, we’re stirring, we’re stirring, we’re stirring. And then you’ve got your film, right? So now pretend it’s dark in here. We’re all in the dark together. It’s very romantic. And then we take our film and we put it in here and we mix it around for about 15 minutes. And then what do I got for you here, folks? I have got… Voilà! It’s your film, it’s developed! Serve warm with love to people you love. And thank you very much for having us.

Paolo: Thank you. Thank you thank you.