East LA Interchange examines the history of the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Boyle Heights in East Los Angeles is now a predominantly Mexican-American community known for a high crime rate, yet the history of the neighborhood is not a static one. The neighborhood that now boasts a community that is over 90-percent Latino was once one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Los Angeles, with sizable Jewish, Asian and African-American populations before changes in the laws and post-war development caused a shift in the population to what it is today. The documentary East LA Interchange chronicles the history of this neighborhood, telling the stories of those who lived there decades ago as well as those who make up the current community.
Narrated by actor Danny Trejo, the Latino actor who was raised not too far from Boyle Heights in Echo Park, the documentary is a fascinating bit of history for a city that rarely looks back on its past. While telling the specific story of the Boyle Heights neighborhood, the documentary makes clear that the effects on this one area are part of an interconnected series of decisions by L.A. lawmakers and developers to change the city into the metropolis that it is today. The particular details of the history should feel novel to those who don’t know them, but anyone with even the most minimal knowledge of Los Angeles can easily guess that the monumental change in Boyle Heights came from the introduction of the L.A. freeway system.
East LA Interchange makes the case that freeway construction helped to create the Boyle Heights that L.A. residents know today, but it does not lose sight of the human stories. Perhaps the most significant scene in the film is a short one in which a Japanese-American former resident of Boyle Heights returns to the home where his family once lived to search for items that they buried in the backyard before being detained and receives family heirlooms from the current Latino resident. The documentary is in many ways a typical non-fiction film similar to any that one might see on PBS, but this particular scene dramatizes it in ways that the standard interview and archive footage format does not.
If there is one main message of the film, it is that even a documentary with such a definitive reputation remains in flux. The freeway may have made Boyle Heights into what it is, but gentrification may undo it. East LA Interchange is a critical documentary for those who wish to know about how Los Angeles developed, not just for those wishing to know about Boyle Heights in particular, but also for those whose only experience with the neighborhood is driving above it on the 10 freeway.
East LA Interchange
Blue Water Media
Screens at the Highland Park Independent Film Festival Oct. 10
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