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'Tales of the American' in Fine Arts Film Festival

"Tales of the American" is an Official Selection of the Fine Arts Film Festival to be held next month (May 11-12, 2018) in Venice, CA.

 

Presented by the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, ​the Fine Arts Film Festival is dedicated to showing the finest films in the world about art, photography, collectors and artists of all mediums in and out of their studios, galleries, museums, public art and alternative art spaces.

 

The schedule of screenings will be announced soon. Check this space next week for more news.

A Word from Executive Producer Michael Connelly

A couple years ago, I was doing some research on L.A.'s Downtown Arts District. I wanted to put the area and some of its history into my novel The Wrong Side of Goodbye. I was lucky, because I had an in. A former colleague of mine from the Los Angeles Times was Pam Wilson. Her husband, Stephen Seemayer, was one of the artists who helped establish the Arts District back in the '70s. Pam and Stephen had even made a film about those early days, which I watched as part of my research and mentioned in the novel.

 

In the course of seeking their help with my project, Pam mentioned they had a project of their own underway — another documentary on the Arts District, but focusing on the one place that stood for all the district and its rich history: The American Hotel. More than 100 years old, the American has changed identity several times as its neighborhood changed. It has somehow survived as a classic and important part of the cultural DNA of the city that often doesn't preserve its past. Stephen and Pam's project was to preserve the American in film, to document the history and character of the place.

 

Most of the time, I write about a character who is intrinsically connected to his own past, as well as the City of Angels. So this project was a pitch over the plate to me. I had to support it in anyway I could.

The Stories

Filmmakers Stephen Seemayer and Pamela Wilson have interviewed more than 140 residents, former residents and neighbors of the American Hotel. "Tales of the American" weaves together their stories and memories of nearly four decades in what is now known as the Arts District in eastern downtown Los Angeles.

The History

Even before artists moved in, the American was a haven for the outcasts of society. In 1905, the hotel was built to provide "first-class lodgings for negroes," when other L.A. hotels were segregated. By 1930, Little Tokyo had extended into the area, and nearly all the hotel's residents were Japanese, to be sent to internment camps in World War II.

 

 

The Setting

Originally the city's first black neighborhood, the area around Traction & Hewitt has gone through many changes, including to warehouses and factories. It is now the hub of the Downtown Arts District. Brightly painted walls sport graffiti as well as sanctioned murals on streets that now are home to cafés, galleries, restaurants and theaters.

 

The Legacy

The infamous punk dive Al's Bar, where bands such as the White Stripes and the Red Hot Chili Peppers played before fame found them, was located on the ground floor of the American Hotel for 21 years. Also, several exciting, if short-lived, L.A. art groups, such as 50 Bucks, Bedlam and Deep River Gallery, have called the hotel home. 

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© Pamela Wilson & Stephen Seemayer / Seemayer Studios LLC 2018