Parks Are Free Film Series:

March 24, 2010

Who controls public space? Can it change hands by fiat? Can it be used as a canvas for an art instillation? What happens when animals choose it as their territory? Who is trying to protect it?

The ParksArefree Film Series at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts will be showing four films around the theme of public space and the environment.

The first will be The Garden, playing on March 25th at 7:00. It chronicles the story of America’s largest urban garden, which existed in Los Angeles from 1994 until 2006. Members of a primarily immigrant community turned a 14-acre patch of post-industrial wasteland into a community garden and administered it democratically. There they grew vegetables and fruits, as well as plants used in traditional medicines.

Starting in 2003, a legal battle over the land ensued, with a private company, Alameda-Barbara, led by the developer Ralph Horowitz, claiming that the land belonged to it due to loop holes in the eminent domain laws. The case was settled behind closed doors, and the community farm was lost to a corporate entity.

The local community mobilized, protesting the seizure of land, blocking bulldozers, and committing acts of civil disobedience. A private security company was hired to stop locals from tending to their farms. The LAPD got involved. In the end, the land was lost, and Horowitz stated that whatever would be built on the land was to be ‘market driven.’

The film shows a community come together to protect something shared, important, and beautiful from the crass and cruel bureaucracy of real estate development.

South Central Farm

The second film, The Gates, documents Christo’s 14-year struggle to drape orange cloth throughout Central Park.

The film starts in 1979 with the first push by Christo and Jeanne-Claude to decorate Central Park, and chronicles the discussions and debates about public space and art. Christo’s work is not just about the art itself, but about the discussion it generates, and the hidden passions that emerge when art and everyday life collide.

Although the original concept came about in 1979, it was not until 2003 that a contract was signed, and the materials constructed. The processes of creating and setting up the exhibit involved 300 uniformed workers, 5,290 tons of steel, and 116,389 miles of nylon, which were then woven into over a million square feet of fabric. (By way of comparison, the circumference of the Earth at the Equator is 24,902 miles).

The film will be preceded at 6:30 by a tour of the Mellon Park Walled Garden.

The Gates

The third film. Pale Male, will be shown on March 27th. This film tells the story of a red-tailed hawk who settled down on an apartment building on Fifth Avenue in New York to hunt in Central Park.

The hawk has become a local celebrity in New York. He has lost a mate, raised chicks, fought crows to retain his territory, and become the patron of a multi-generation family.

The film will be followed by a presentation by at 4:00 by the National Aviary and Rachel Carson Homestead.

Pale Male

The last film, A Sense of Wonder, depicts the last year in the life of Rachel Carson Homestead, the writer of Silent Spring and the founder of the modern environmental movement.

Rachel Carson Homestead was a naturalist who devoted herself to learning about, and sharing her knowledge of, nature. After World War Two, she began to warn people about the dangers of pesticides and synthetic chemicals.

Her philosophy was that humans are one part of nature, as affected by it as any other species. Humans, however, have developed a tendency to altar and damage nature like no other species, and she wanted to bring to light the dangers of environmental abuse.

She was always fascinated by the beauty of nature, and her prose about the natural world was lyrical and loving. A Sense of Wonder captures her in her last year of life, retaining her sense of poetry and awe despite her illness.

The film will be preceded by a presentation by at 4:00 by the National Aviary and Rachel Carson Homestead.

Rachel Carson Homestead

The Garden

The Gates
Pale Male
A Sense of Wonder


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