Los Punks in L.A.: An Interview with Director Angela Boatwright
In East L.A., South Central and Boyle Heights, you won’t find the glitz and glam of Hollywood. To counter the stresses of life in L.A., it’s common to find a crew of punks in a backyard letting loose at a show. “In the backyard, there’s no rules: It’s just raw excitement, chaos … anything goes,” says Nacho, 25, promoter and singer of Corrupted Youth at the start of Los Punks, a documentary directed by Angela Boatwright. “It’s something that makes us feel like we’re a part of something,” says Stephanie, 24, singer and guitarist of Otherized, as onlookers assert: “Punk rock, thank you—you saved my life!” Prior to Los Punks’ premiere at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Boatwright discussed her directing debut, her work in photography and the community she grew to love.
SLUG: How long were you involved in the making of Los Punks?
Boatwright: I’ve been documenting the scene for almost three years thus far, both photographically (personally) and for the documentary.
SLUG: What drew you to the punk scene in L.A.?
Boatwright: I was new to Los Angeles and was looking for like-minded people. A lifelong metal and punk fan, I was aware that L.A. has a long-established and diverse punk history and wanted to know more. I did some research and ended up at my first backyard show shortly thereafter.
SLUG: What specifically about punk, as opposed to hip-hop or other countercultural movements, do you think draws people, specifically L.A. Latinos, to the DIY community?
Boatwright: In most cases, punk speaks to the struggle of daily life and to the politics involved with resisting the status quo. Punk attracts all types of people that believe in this ideology. In neighborhoods such as East L.A. and Boyle Heights, the proportion of Latino residents is well over 90 percent. These are communities that have been relatively isolated from the status quo in the past, and I believe the message—and the noise associated with punk—provides an outlet, an avenue towards a community all their own and a voice.
SLUG: How did you get your subjects to open up to you with such raw honesty about their families and lives?
Boatwright: I’m very curious about people in general, and being new to Los Angeles, I was and still am immensely curious about the punks and the punk scene here. Humor was also important. I never resist the urge to be silly or ridiculous.
SLUG: What challenges did you face as you worked on the film?
Boatwright: The scene is very nomadic. A show might start on 114th Street then move to 83rd Street without warning after the cops raid it, then move again, and again. This can be tricky with a film crew and equipment.
SLUG: What’s the craziest shit you’ve ever seen go down at a show?
Boatwright: Helicopter raids are always exciting. The very last scene in Los Punks has a great example of a helicopter raid. Hundreds of kids spilling out into the street illuminated by the blinding light of authority from above—it’s a trip, for sure.
SLUG: How did your work with photography lead you into directing films?
Boatwright: During my last years in New York, I shared an office space with several people in the film industry. One of the producers on The Wolfpack, Alex Orlovsky, had the desk right behind mine, for example. I was looking into directing documentaries, and my new industry officemates provided a lot of instruction and influence.
SLUG: Who and what inspires your work?
Boatwright: I have a very strong, spiritual—albeit secular—passion that drives me. Everything I do comes from my gut … [but] my teenage self inspires my work more than anything, and 14-year-old me would be very proud of who I’ve become.
SLUG: What do you hope this film will inspire for people who aren’t based in L.A.?
Boatwright: Start a band, support your local punk scene, support underground music, support DIY culture, and really learn about the city where you’re from or the city where you live. Talk to people—all types of people; get on their level. Go places that aren’t familiar to you. Learn Spanish. Get out of your shell, throw a show in your backyard, and don’t always obey authority—or anyone, for that matter. Support young people and their dreams and goals regardless of your personal opinion about them.
SLUG: What advice would you give for young adults who want to make an impact on their community, similarly to the group you documented for Los Punks?
Boatwright: If you have an idea, do it. If you can change your community, you might change the whole world—you are important, and we as a civilization need your voice.
For screening times and information about the 2016 Slamdance lineup, visit slamdance.com.