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, April 24).

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 we tackled.

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' document.

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 Marsh.

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.

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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 documentaries.

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 and elsewhere.