“Why I build it? I can’t tell you. Why a man make the pants? Why a man make the shoes?”
— Sam Rodia, artist of Watts Towers
Presented by the American Cinematheque in collaboration with the Watts Towers Arts Center, the International Documentary Association and the Italian Cultural Institute.
Los Angeles’ recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Watts Uprising gives us a unique opportunity to better understand the recent violence underscoring the continuing practice of inequality in our country. Join us for a screening of I BUILD THE TOWER, Edward Landler and Brad Byer’s definitive feature documentary on the Watts Towers and their creator, Sabato Rodia. Made with exclusive access to Rodia’s family and the cooperation of the Watts community, the film follows Rodia’s life through the creation of his monumental mosaic-covered spires and their recognition as an architectural and sculptural masterpiece.
I BUILD THE TOWER also tells the story of Watts. Showing this story as Rodia saw it over the 30 years of his work on the towers, the film details the growth of the conditions that led to the violence of 1965 – and to Watts embracing the Watts Towers as a symbol of freedom and initiative.
Following the screening, panelists with perspectives drawn from long-term experience with Watts and the Watts Towers – for some going back to before 1965 – will address the issues raised in the film about our local history that are still influencing our society today.
Ben Caldwell – Filmmaker, founder of the Kaos Network, community multimedia training and arts center in South Los Angeles
Charles Dickson – Sculptor, community activist, Artist-in-Residence at the Watts Towers Arts Center
Luisa Del Giudice – Oral historian and ethnographer; founder, the Watts Towers Common Ground Initiative; director, Italian Oral History Institute; editor of Sabato Rodia’s Towers in Watts
Gerald Horne – Historian, professor, University of Houston, author of Fire This Time: The Watts Uprising and the 1960s
Edward Landler – Writer, media educator and filmmaker, I BUILD THE TOWER.
Ojenke – Poet and a founding member of the Watts Writers Workshop
Judson Powell – Artist, co-founding director of Watts Towers Arts Center (1964), creator of the Hearts of Watts Project
Moderator – Rosie Lee Hooks – Actor, singer, filmmaker, current director of the Watts Towers Arts Center
For full bios, see below.
I BUILD THE TOWER
2006, 87 min, USA, Dir: Edward Landler, Brad Byer
In the center of Watts sits the enigmatic art project of Italian immigrant Sabato Rodia, whose monumental mosaic-covered spires are now seen as an architectural and sculptural masterpiece. This compelling film, cited by Nonfics.com as one of the 20 best documentaries about Los Angeles, paints a rich portrait of the Watts Towers, their struggle for survival from demolition by the city and the lone man who created them over a 30-year period. Made with exclusive access to Rodia’s family and the cooperation of the Watts community, the film also details the growth of the conditions that led to the violence of 1965… and to Watts embracing the Towers as a symbol of freedom and initiative. –
“…the film is wonderful: lyrical, well-made and edited, and compelling…”
– Ken Burns
Barely five feet tall, the uneducated Rodia worked from the 1920’s to the 1950’s without helpers or scaffolding to build unique and majestic spires of reinforced concrete rising to a hundred feet, decorated with a mosaic of tile, seashells, pottery, ceramics, rocks and glass – even broken 7-Up and Milk of Magnesia bottles. Transcending the category of “outsider” or “folk” art, Rodia’s Watts Towers have come to be recognized as an artistic and engineering masterpiece world-wide.
This compelling film, cited by Nonfics.com as one of the 20 best documentaries about Los Angeles, paints a rich portrait of the Watts Towers, their struggle for survival from demolition by the city and the lone man who created them over a 30-year period.
Detailed Biographies of the Panelists
grew up in New Mexico and studied filmmaking at U.C.L.A. in the late 1960s and early 70s. After teaching film and video at Howard University in Washington, D.C., he returned to Los Angeles to create the KAOS Network, a community arts center in Leimert Park that provides training in digital arts, media arts and multimedia. He has also taught at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. His films include I & I: An African Allegory (1979), Eyewitness: Reflections of Malcolm X and the O.A.A.U. (2006) and La Buena Vida (2008). He also was cinematographer for parts of I Build the Tower (2006).
LUISA DEL GIUDICE
An independent scholar, she is founder and director of the Italian Oral History Institute. She has taught Italian Folklore at U.C.L.A., has lectured widely and produced programs on Italian and Italian diaspora folk life. She also founded the Watts Towers Common Ground Initiative to coordinate two conferences on the Watts Towers at the University of Genoa and U.C.LA., which began the effort to have Rodia’s monument designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most recently, she edited Sabato Rodia’s Towers in Watts: Art, Migrations, Development (2014).
is an assemblage artist and sculptor. He was born in 1947 and grew up in South Central Los Angeles. After a summer scholarship at the Otis Art Institute, he worked as an apprentice to artist Charles White. Working out of his own studio in Compton, Dickson has been awarded numerous public commissions including his Martin Luther King, Jr., “Hummingbird” Memorial in Watts, the El Segundo Metro Rail Station and the “Wishing on a Star” sculpture outside the California African American Museum in Exposition Park. He is also part of the Artist-in-Residence program at the Watts Towers Arts Center.
GERALD HORNE is the Moores Professor of History and African-American Studies at the University of Houston. He has published more than 20 books including Fire This Time: The Watts Uprising and the 1960s (1997); Class Struggle in Hollywood, 1930-1950: Moguls, Mobsters, Stars, Reds and Trade Unionists (2001); W.E.B. DuBois: A Biography (2009); and The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America (2014). He is a frequent contributor to Political Affairs magazine and his commentary can also be heard on KPFK’s “Sojourner Truth Radio”.
EDWARD LANDLER studied under film historian Jay Leyda at Yale, got production experience with Satyajit Ray in India, Luis Bunuel in France, and worked on independent feature films in the United States. Involved with the Watts Towers Arts Center for over 30 years, he spent 20 of them working on I Build the Tower (2006) in collaboration with Rodia’s great-nephew Brad Byer. He has also taught film in twentieth-century culture at California State University, Northridge, Woodbury University and U.C.L.A. Extension. He is a regular contributor to CineMontage, the magazine of the Motion Picture Editors Guildand is writing a cultural history of film.
OJENKE is a poet and one of the original members of the Watts Writers Workshop, started by Budd Schulberg in 1965. Born in 1947, his family moved to Watts in 1953. Described as the “John Coltrane of Black Poetry”, his work has appeared in anthologies such as From the Ashes: Voices of Watts (1967), edited by Schulberg, and Watts Poets (1968) and Giant Talk: An Anthology of Third World Writings (1975), both edited by Quincy Troupe, and numerous magazines including the Antioch Review, Black World and the American Indian Review.
JUDSON POWELL, an artist and educator, was born in Philadelphia and came to Los Angeles in 1958. In 1964, along with Noah Purifoy and Curtis Tan, he established the first arts programs at the Watts Towers Arts Center. In 1966, he created with Purifoy the 66 Signs of Neon exhibition out of debris found after the Watts Uprising. Soon after, he developed the Communicative Arts Academy in Compton. Recently he created the Hearts of Watts Project, unique handcrafted glass mosaic hearts inspired by the Watts Towers.
Moderator – ROSIE LEE HOOKS is the current director of the Watts Towers Arts Center of the City of Los Angeles Department Cultural Affairs. An actor, a singer and a filmmaker, she is a former member of the singing ensemble “Sweet Honey in the Rock” and was a founding member of the D.C. Black Repertory Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., and a founding member of the Black Ensemble Theatre at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. Prior to coming to the Watts Towers, she served as Director of Festivals and the Gallery Theatre at Barnsdall Park for Cultural Affairs.
Panel on Watts & The Watts Towers Plus Screening of Documentary
I BUILD THE TOWER
Wednesday, August 5, 2015 at 7:30 PM at the Aero Theatre
1328 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90403