New Echo Park movie brings gentrification theme to the big screen

Echo Park Film
Echo Park, premiering in the 2014 LA Film Festival.

The 20th LA Film Festival takes place from June 11-19, 2014 at LA Live and it is featuring nearly 200 features, shorts, and music videos from 40 countries. A special category is launching this year, LA Muse, and it is intended for filmmakers and artists to use Los Angeles as the source of inspiration for their storytelling on screen.

One of the selections that will be presented as part of the LA Muse section is Echo Park, an 88 minute feature film by first-time director Amanda Marsalis, and written by Catalina Aguilar Mastretta.

Echo Park Film Synopsis

Desperate to jar herself from the rich tedium of picture-perfect Beverly Hills, Sophie moves across town to another world: Echo Park. She quickly strikes up an unexpected connection with Alex, a handsome neighbor and British expat who is reluctantly selling his beloved home to move back to London. As the summer passes, a romance driven by uncertainty compels them to reassess where each belongs.

Photographer Amanda Marsalis’ directorial debut vibrantly captures the subtleties of privilege and difference. Mamie Gummer and Anthony Okungbowa imbue their characters with complexity and intrigue, while Jason McCormick’s lensing captures the vibrancy and mysterious possibilities of Echo Park. (Source: LA Film Festival)

Inspired by Gentrification?

Many have crowned Echo Park as the current mecca of gentrification in the Southland, and rightly so. As Echo Park prepares its world premiere showing at the LA Film Festival, a 48 year old business and grocery store is being displaced by development in the real life community itself.

If we’re to define gentrification as a shift in an urban community toward wealthier residents and businesses, and one that replaces poorer residents with wealthier newcomers, Echo Park, the community, can’t negate the shift.

So it’s as if the writer of Echo Park, Catalina Aguilar Mastretta, was directly inspired by these cross-city migrations and couldn’t be but more frank in her inspiration than in selecting a protagonist, Sophie (Mamie Gummer), who comes from a city that exemplifies wealth itself (in LA or not)–Beverly Hills.

It’s the hipsterfication of film narrative in 2014, isn’t it? A westside Beverly Hills resident becomes bored with a “picture-perfect” life and seeks identity by moving to the “eastside” of Los Angeles, also known as Echo Park. She finds love in a companion, and they both explore the different culture that is Echo Park and its residents.

And when we say residents, we know which residents the film intends to showcase in the scenes–latinos, who’ve been the dominant demographic in Echo Park since the mid 20th century.

The same basic setup can be filmed in many neighborhoods across America, like say Chicago’s Humboldt Park, the historically Puerto-Rican neighborhood that’s within a stone’s throw from Wicker Park, another hipster mecca (Silver Lake).

So with the basic framework of gentrification laid out, what can we expect from this film? Scenes of paleteros at Echo Park Lake? Involvements with small, latino-owned businesses up Echo Park Ave or Sunset Blvd? Interactions with Spanish-speaking neighbors, kids, or passer-bys on the street? How will the film tell the story?

A glimpse into a scene would say we’re down the right path:

Echo Park Film
A scene from Echo Park (2014). Source: LA Film Festival.

It’s easy to assume, but how right or wrong will we be? Regardless, it will be interesting to see how the film captures the “vibrancy and mysterious possibilities of Echo Park” through the lens, and the verdict’s pending for how original it is in telling the story of a caucasian newcomer finding identity in a more diverse and ethnic community, be it in Los Angeles or anywhere else.

And what tone will the film take? Will it be oblivious to the fact that it’s telling a well-known story? Will it be comedic in Sophie’s search for identity in Echo Park? And what role will Alex, the British expat (Anthony Okungbowa), play? How will the audience gauge his relationship to Echo Park and gentrification? And what forces are leading him to abandon Echo Park and return to London?

One thing should be exciting for Echo Park–seeing scenes from the neighborhood on the big screen: Elysian. Dodger Stadium. Echo Park Lake. And local streets, trails, backdrops, restaurants, people, and more, all shot in high definition.

The film is produced by Anthony Okungbowa and Eric Hayes; it is shot by Jason McCormick; edited by Nina Lucia and Greg O’Bryant; and scored by Christopher H. Knight. The cast is completed by Maurice Compte, Ricky Rico, Gale Harold, Helen Slater.

The film will screen on Saturday, June 14th at 6:45 p.m. at LA Live’s Regal Cinema in theater 11. For more information, check out the following links:


Jose Cervantes is an editor and contributor to Echo Park Forums. He writes about Echo Park community, business, and entertainment.

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