By the time directors Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin had finished editing “LA 92,” their documentary about the riots in Los Angeles following the 1992 verdict in the Rodney King trial, they’d amassed 1,700 hours of footage. The film gleans from news footage, personal videos, and other sources for a 114-minute film comprised completely of archival footage — no talking heads.
“In a perfect world, we would have had two years to make this, and we had nine months,” Lindsay said following a screening of the film at the International Documentary Association’s annual screening series.
Editing a film made up of such upsetting, violent imagery did take a toll, but Lindsay and Martin both said they knew what they were getting into when they signed on to direct the project — and besides, nothing would compare to the experience of people who lived through it.
“I think we knew what we signed up for. Some of the stuff at the flashpoint was definitely hard to watch. It’s just hard to watch in general, so just screening the stuff sometimes was difficult,” Lindsay said. “But I just could never compare our experience to the people that are living through it.”
Martin said that making the film was important to him for several reasons, one of which is because of his own heritage.
“My mom’s black and my dad’s white, and I found myself very observant of my place in society at an early, early age just by nature of, depending on where I was and what community I was in, the way in which people would treat me,” he said. “So the exploration of race and class and even gender issues in this country has been top of mind in things that I’ve been interested in for a very long time, and we tend to explore race and class a lot in our work. So engaging in this film was an extension of that same conversation.”
He continued, “So to make the film, learn more about ’65, learn more about ’92, and look at the similarities, wake up every day and read about Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Michael Brown, everybody you name — Philando Castile, that happened while we were cutting the film — just made it that much more complicated and honestly sickening to make it. And then to throw on top of that, just practically speaking, the nature of the content of the footage, and then the way in which the footage was shot, personally I was just nauseous a lot for six, seven, eight months straight. You kind of go in waves. You fall asleep thinking about it, if you can fall asleep.”
In the end, Martin and Lindsay hope their film leaves a sobering impression on those who watch it.
“Oftentimes you have documentaries that, for some reason, feel the need to end on this note of hope. I’m not saying that there’s not hope engaged in the film and we believe in hope, but we’re also not going to make a film that’s making a promise that things have gotten better — but rather hopefully a film that’s sobering, that asks the right questions,” Martin said. “Naturally the material just kind of sticks with you. And if anything I can say it changed us for the better, the experience. Like Dan said, we can never compare ourselves in terms of our experience making it to those who actually experienced it in real life, however…I can say that hopefully we’ve gained something intellectually and emotionally as a result of making it.”
Watch clips from the Q&A below:
The IDA Documentary Screening Series brings some of the year’s most acclaimed documentary films to the IDA community and members of industry guilds and organizations. Films selected for the Series receive exclusive access to an audience of tastemakers and doc lovers during the important Awards campaigning season from September through November. For more information about the series, and a complete schedule, visit IDA.