During my days as a newspaper and wire service reporter, I did my best to hype up stories about the State Capitol or city hall. But it wasn’t easy to get editors or readers interested. Put personalities and conflict in your stories, advised my Associated Press boss Morrie Landsberg. Even so, I found it hard work, a sentiment I am sure is shared by the current generation of reporters.
Now filmmakers, equipped with visual and story telling skills, are tackling the job of exploring the personalities, issues and politics that have made the Capitol and Los Angeles City Hall so important to the state.
I’ve already written about one in LA Observed, “California State of Mind: The Legacy of Pat Brown,” an excellent documentary done by the late governor’s granddaughters, executive producer Hilary Armstrong and director Sascha Rice. It will be shown at MOCA Nov. 10 after screenings in October in Mill Valley, Carmel and Manhattan.
A work in progress is “Bridging The Divide: Tom Bradley and the Politics of Race,” by documentarians Lyn Goldfarb and Alison Sotomayor. They are filming, raising money for the documentary and interviewing the remaining veterans of the Bradley era. Recently, they announced a “very generous grant” from the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation.
I don’t envy, Goldfarb and Sotomayor. Pat Brown was an open, talkative, warm pol, qualities that blended with idealism, a sense of purpose and a love of California to make him one of the state’s great governors. Bradley was also a good politician with idealism, purpose and love of Los Angeles. He was one of the city’s greatest mayors. But he wasn’t talkative, nor did he open up to many people.
His guarded personality was partially shaped, no doubt, by his difficult rise from black police officer in a bigoted police department to becoming African American mayor of a city without a black majority—and one of the country’s most respected public officials of his era.
He was a tough interview. Once, desperate for something interesting, I asked him to tell me about his day. He was surprised by my approach but I made him go through the whole thing, from the time he left the house to what he did in city hall. He checked potholes, streetlights and traffic on his way to work. He went over every detail of the budget. He knew the boring procedures of almost every department. I found it fascinating. Here was a great national symbol of African American progress who, at heart, was an incredible city government wonk, which was one of the reasons for his success.
I’ve always tried to think of the political life I covered as having a dramatic arc, like a movie or a play but it’s difficult to translate this onto the printed page. Now it’s the documentarians' turn to tell the incredible and dramatic story of California through the lives of two of its heroes.