March 13, 2008

Hecho En LA

Alumni Produced MADE IN LA Doc Takes On Sweatshops

By Mel Cowan

Producer Robert Bahar and Director Almudena Carracedo  
with the women featured in
Made in L.A.
An award-winning documentary, produced by Stark alumnus Robert Bahar, about garment workers who take a stand against the retailer responsible for their low wages and sub-standard working conditions, made its SCA debut at the Taper Hall of Humanities on March 11, 2008.

Taking us from the gritty sweatshops of downtown Los Angeles to trendy boutiques in Beverly Hills, Made in LA follows three female Spanish-speaking immigrant workers in the garment industry, all of whom were subjected to long hours in vile, roach- and rat-infested factories, and paid next to nothing.

Directed by UCLA alumna Almudena Carracedo, Made in LA was produced and co-written by Bahar who graduated from the Peter Stark Producing Program in 2000. Bahar and co-editor/co-writer Lisa Leeman, Production ’81, who is also an adjunct faculty member, were involved for much of the film’s five-and-a-half year production schedule, with Bahar coming onto the production a year into filming.

Other USC alums involved in a variety of creative roles on the film were Christian Callister, M.F.A Production, ’07; Linda Yvette Chavez, M.F.A. Writing, ’07; Bryan Donnell, Production ’01; Michael Dwyer, B.A. Production ’06; Andrew Groves, M.F.A. ’03; Laris Rodríguez Cintrón; Aymae Sulick, CNTV; and Elizabeth Yng-Wong, Stark ’01.

“We had no money when we started, so we funded the production by having house parties where people would contribute $10, $20, $30 to support the project,” said Bahar, who, after meeting Carracedo through his organization, Doculink, an online community for non-fiction filmmakers, decided to collaborate with her. “In that grassroots way, we funded the film for four years.”

Made in LA is a classic David vs. Goliath story where the giant is trendy fashion retailer Forever 21, who, when pressed by the garment workers for fair wages, denied responsibility for their factories’ practices, because the factories were subcontractors. In response, the Garment Worker Center and the low-wage workers launched a three-year boycott against the retailer, asserting that there was a pattern of labor issues in factories producing clothing that was sold by the retailer.

According to Bahar, the genesis of the film was organic. “Almudena was working on what she thought would be a 10-minute piece for the Garment Worker Center to help them organize. But then the boycott began to come together, and from a documentary perspective, when you see a beginning, middle and an end, you get excited.”

Garment worker Maria Pineda.
But the motivation to commit to making a full-length film was deeper. “What really made us want to make a film instead of a short was seeing these women change and grow more confident and empowered,” added Bahar.
Placing the film in context for Los Angeles residents and USC students, Leeman said, “There is a large Latino community living and working at and around USC, and we don't always know too much about each other, or interact with each other. The film humanizes and tells the story of these three Latinas who immigrated here, and in doing so, becomes a powerful tool in breaking down stereotypes and barriers.”

The film has resonated with audiences all over the world since its theatrical premiere at the Silverdocs Film Festival in Washington, D.C., and its subsequent national broadcast on PBS’s POV series. “Getting broadcast through POV turned out to be a wonderful experience. They premiered the film the day after Labor Day, which allowed for a great deal of connected publicity through everything from the New York Times to Variety,” said Bahar. “In addition, they showed the film exactly as we made it: with the full running length and with bilingual subtitles, making it completely accessible for both Spanish and English speakers.”

Director Almudena Carracedo and producer/co-writer Robert Bahar.
With the help of several student groups such as the Latino/a Student Assembly, the USC School of Social Work and the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, Bahar screened the film for an enthusiastic audience at the Taper Hall of Humanities. The screening marked the first time that the film’s three stars had been together since the film’s West Coast premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2007.

“From my point of view, it was a moving experience, not only to reunite these women and bring all these student groups together, but also to show the film at my alma mater,” said Bahar. “It really reminded me how connected the film was to the entire community, so it was wonderful to be able to share it with everyone at the school.”