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A Visit to KAOS Network

About the Author

Stacks of archived footage
Former Director, UCLA Film & Television Archive

In addition to his long career in film archiving and curating, Jan-Christopher Horak has taught at universities around the world. His recent book, Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design (2014) was published by University Press of Kentucky.

"Archival Spaces" Blog - Ithaca College

The afterglow of the “L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema” exhibition’s closing night party carried us all through the holidays. The wonderful nine weeks of inspired drama, both on screen, on stage, and in the audience also helped. During our holiday break, I took the opportunity to see other “Pacific Standard Time” exhibitions, but when I got an email on New Year’s Day from S. Torriano Berry, announcing a screening at KAOS Network, I knew I needed my L.A. Rebellion fix.

Ben Caldwell

KAOS Network is Ben Caldwell. For several decades he has operated a community based media production center and screening space in Leimert Park, Los Angeles. Underfunded and certainly underpaid, Ben Caldwell is one of my heroes because he has remained absolutely true to the principles, pedagogical and otherwise, he formulated in his L.A. Rebellion films at UCLA, especially I & I: An African Allegory (1979). Namely, by training generations of African American youth to seize the means of image production and create their own, he has helped empower countless individuals. Furthermore, by creating an intimate space for film discussions, he as empowered the community to resist the overwhelmingly negative onslaught of images from the mass media.

On Tuesday evening, I got off the 10 Freeway and drove down Crenshaw Boulevard to Leimert Park. I had been to KAOS several times to see Ben, but never gone there for an actual event. So I was excited. When I got there, I was greeted by S. Torriano Berry and Ben Caldwell; then, Alile Sharon Larkin, Robert Wheaton and Julie Dash showed up, making it the first unofficial post-exhibition L.A. Rebellion reunion!  It was also Torriano’s birthday, who co-hosted the party with actress and fellow birthday person, Jennifer Jones.

Once the screening got underway, Torriano introduced his feature length condensation of season four of “Noh Matta Wat!” the first dramatic TV series ever to be produced in Belize. Torriano is a professor at Howard University, but had been back to L.A. recently to screen his UCLA thesis film, Rich (1982), in our L.A. Rebellion series. As Torriano explained to an audience of approximately 20-25 persons, the overwhelming majority being women, he had taken a leave of absence from Howard to photograph, direct and edit all four seasons of this Belize-based television drama. He was now hoping to test “What Dreams Are Made Of,” his reediting of the fourth season into a feature length film. Since many subplots had to be eliminated, he asked the audience to think about what was unclear or still needed work. Then, the film began on Ben’s very large flat-screen television.

KAOS Network created a warm and open environment where ordinary folk from the community could participate in an earnest discussion about the material outcome of a film...

The narrative concerns a Belizean politician who not only wants to “go straight” and resist the daily corruptions endemic to his country, but also reconstitute the family he had previously lost. The discussion after the film was lively. A Belizean woman in the audience got involved in a controversy about the authenticity of the actor’s accents, while a Nigerian woman complained that the Nigerian character in the film didn’t sound right. There was a consensus among the audience that Torriano should increase the scenes that depict the topography and architecture of Belize, because that would be of interest to those who had not yet travelled there. I slipped out while the discussion continued, because it was a long drive back to Pasadena.

What most impressed me about the event was the way the audience got into the discussion. KAOS Network created a warm and open environment where ordinary folk from the community could participate in an earnest discussion about the material outcome of a film, which, even if produced in far-off Belize, still represented them at some basic level, if only because the filmmaker was an American. But then the L.A. Rebellion from Haile Gerima on down has always insisted on a Pan-African point-of-view, and this evening certainly embodied that concept.


<p>COOL! Ben Caldwell is he Lorenzo 'd Medici of the Hood. Wish I had been invited. But, again,</p> <p>que sera sera.</p> <p>FFL, Jamaa</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>
<p>CHRIS,</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The insider information that you shared with us via your finely honed blog seems to suggest that there&nbsp; is&nbsp; a&nbsp; Pan African viewpoint that the Los Angeles Rebellion&nbsp; Filmmakers appear to share in common. Years ago, in 1969 in fact, I wrote a paper for Professor Elyseo J. Taylor’s Film &amp; Social Change class that was titled, “Towards a Black Lifestyle.” Essentially, I demonstrated the tremendous need for an Afro American presence in every aspect and area of filmmaking. Some media artists would consider themselves above the fray, others would argue that they were merely making films for themselves, others were desperately trying to get into the mainstream of film as espoused by the studios. Whichever path the individual artist chose to project the vision, mission and purpose of film was equally valid. There was no Rebellion in the sense of the word that has been posited with the Los Angeles Rebellion group of filmmakers, instead, I have found that there is very much a case of follow the leader in terms of playing to the choir of those of like minds. By this, I mean, that ALL of the films that are made by people of color have, intrinsically, been given a green light to express themselves in an artistically creative way, so that those of us who have never experienced their work can view it and appreciate it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other hand, I have discovered a myriad of intriguing filmic possibilities from the work that I saw at the Closing Night Ceremony of the Los Angeles Rebellion Preservation Project Retrospective that would serve to shed light years worth of useful images, dynamic photos, and an omniscient narrator who served to tie the project together, give sense and meaning to the multitude of images that bombard the viewer, and serve to act as a springboard for discussion and sincere,&nbsp; heated exchanges of points of view and communication initiated between people, on a small level, who have something of great import to say. It is particularly encouraging to note that there is no time frame to delineate the passing of one age and the approach of another. In this case, the films that were made 35 to 45 years ago, in many cases, have engendered a dialog, an ongoing examination of the films, the people who engaged in the lively dialog, and all of this is highly encouraging since the rather small spattering of people who think, matters more to me than the blockbusters of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and those of their ilk. It behooves us then, to more or less widen the casting net of films that are called the Los Angeles Rebellion to develop more into a way of seeing, a way of perceiving, a way of communicating, a way to develop immensely more maturity by being part of a throbbing, intense, densely structured community awareness type of filmmaking. Do you understand?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Best</p> <p>Thomas Marshall Penick</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>