Counterpunch: Production Team Takes Issue with the Ballona Wetlands Stories, Los Angeles Times,May 10, 1999, p. F-3,By Sheila A. Laffey, Todd Brunelle, Lorraine Salk, and Jay Elliot
As part of the production team of
"The Last Stand--The Struggle for Ballona Wetlands,"
we would like to respond to a number of incorrect and misleading
statements that appear in both the article and review of our film
about the proposed Playa Vista development in Los Angeles ("The
Mudslinging in the Wetlands," by Lorenza Munoz, and "
'Wetlands' More Promotion Than Documentary," by James Bates,
Playa Vista Vice President David
Herbst's remark that "if the project were worthy of the truth
it would not have been rejected by 60 foundations" suggests
that he knows nothing of the overwhelming challenge of fund-raising
for independent films, particularly documentaries. The rejections
had nothing to do with the merits of the project and everything
to do with the reality of fund-raising for independent films.
Many of the foundations we contacted, for example, said they do
not consider film projects, environmental projects or projects
outside of their geographical area. It is fair to speculate that
other possible sources of funding for the film, particularly in
Hollywood, did not come through because of the controversial issue
In criticizing our project as "not
worthy of the truth," Herbst didn't notice that a picture
is worth a thousand words. Information presented was confirmed
by documents, the developers' own plans and maps.
The Times reporter repeated a misleading
figure given by the developers about the amount of open space
at Playa Vista. In the film, journalist Bill Gibson gives one
of several examples of how the developers' tally of open space
includes areas such as the concrete Ballona Channel, where
they cannot build anyway. This is confirmed by our showing a developers'
Herbst says that we neglected to
show man's effect on the Ballona area. He must have missed
the historical section, which opens with an old newspaper headline,
"La Ballona Valley History--One of Romance, Industry
in Ballona Valley," followed by stills that include
oil wells. The film also contains a number of images of the Howard
Hughes hangars and paved area. It's unfortunate that Herbst doesn't
appreciate that much of the degraded Ballona wetlands ecosystem
is capable of being restored, as shown by our footage of Madrona
With regard to Heal the Bay, The
Times reporter says the film portrays this organization as supporting
the development. Comments about funding by Heal the Bay's director
are intercut with comments about his group not being part of a
coalition; we do not say that Heal the Bay supports the development.
As for the review, while we acknowledge
that anyone can have an opinion about a film, it is worth noting
that James Bates is a Times business reporter who has covered
DreamWorks' efforts to build a studio at Playa Vista. Perhaps
his criticisms are representative of the vested interests that
have coalesced to build the development.
Bates' characterization of the film
as an "infomercial" shows no knowledge of the gamut
of documentaries from Capra's "Why We Fight" series
during World War II to "The Panama Deception" and "Broken
Rainbow," which won Oscars for best documentary. Bates should
consult the definition of a documentary as "a nonfiction
film that organizes and presents factual materials to make a point."
Bates criticizes our coverage of
activists in the film. But since nearly 90 groups--including the
Sierra Club, CalPIRG and Americans for Democratic Action--are
members of a coalition that opposes Playa Vista, it is natural
that we would cover some of their actions. He fails to mention
that we also included well-respected authors, attorneys, actors,
politicians, filmmakers, a fisheries expert, scientists such as
Joy Zedler, noted author of "Wetlands Restoration,"
and even Tom Brokaw's "Nightly News" coverage.
Bates feels that those who support
the development are "made either to look sleazy or misguided"
in the film. These are his characterizations. The film accurately
portrays their statements.
Response from the public has been
most positive, as have reviews in other publications. In addition
to the Gold Star Award from Worldfest Houston, the film has received
other awards and has screened at five film festivals.
For Bates' information, "Frontline"
felt the Ballona issue was "too local or regional"
for it to cover. Perhaps he should wonder why only Echo Mountain
Productions had the inspiration and perseverance to complete a
long-form film on this hot issue. While we admit that we have
our own points of view on the subject, this is not unusual for
filmmakers and journalists who bring issues to light with little,
if any, financial compensation.
* "The Last Stand--The
Struggle for Ballona Wetlands" will be shown May 21
at 7 and 8:30 p.m. at the Ocean Avenue Screening Room, 1401 Ocean
Ave., Santa Monica, and June 4 at 8 p.m. at Raleigh Studios, 5300
Melrose Ave., Hollywood.
Sheila A. Laffey is the producer
and co-director of "The Last Stand." She has
a PhD in cinema from New York University and has taught at several
universities, including Ithaca College and Harvard.
Todd Brunelle, the film's co-director,
is an Emmy winner who recently earned an MFA from UCLA. He directs
a wide range of projects from commercials and music videos to
Lorraine Salk, the film's editor
and co-writer, has edited feature films and documentaries, including
works that aired on Showtime and HBO.
Jay Elliot, the film's co-executive
producer, is president of Auckland Entertainment, whose many environmental
programs have aired on syndicated television, the Discovery Channel