A debut documentary clearly in sync with the world it depicts, Angela Boatwright’s Los Punks: We Are All We Have takes viewers into the culture of punk that exists outside formal venues, in backyards scattered across South Central and East Los Angeles. Dating back almost four decades, these impromptu gigs represent punk at its most DIY, an environment depicted here as welcoming of anyone who feels out of place everywhere else. Though it won’t win new fans for the music being made (and doesn’t try to), it does inspire respect for a self-made zone of belonging, whatever flaws and rough edges that environment may have.
Offering a behind-the-scenes peek at how these events happen, the film finds that gigs can be organized by kids as young as 15. At 25, the Corrupted Youth singer called Nacho appears to be the Bill Graham of the backyards — with access to dozens of friends’ Facebook accounts, he can spam (his word) 20,000 punk fans at a time in hopes of getting a few hundred to come out. He and his sister, who works the door, collect a few bucks a head; bands rarely get a cut.
A phenomenon that demands respect whether you like the music or not.
Boatwright finds subjects from all kinds of backgrounds — some with neglectful parents, some from upper middle-class households (like aspiring chef Alex, who has tried and failed many times to kill himself), some whose immigrant parents succeeded at convincing them to stay in school and get straight jobs. Gary Alvarez, of Rhythmic Asylum, is the most eloquent of the bunch, and the most focused on the potential of homebrew punk to build “conscious” communities.
Los Punks doesn’t deny the scene’s potential for anarchy: We meet irate neighbors, watch fights, see shows get raided. But Nacho, who has cultivated a deferential and friendly manner with cops, appears able to negotiate most trouble that might arise. His band, we learn, seems set to graduate from this small-potatoes arena to “proper” rock venues and touring. If the movie’s interviews with more established Latino punks are any indication, success is unlikely to dilute Nacho’s identification with these nothing-to-lose kids.
Venue: Slamdance Film Festival
Production company: AOP
Director: Angela Boatwright
Screenwriter: Christine Triano
Producer: Agi Orsi
Executive producers: Doug Palladini, Eric Douat, Isaac Lee, Juan Rendon
Directors of photography: Fortunato Procopio, Josh Salzman
Editor: Tyler Hubby
Composer: Bryan Lee Brown
Sales: The Film Sales Company
Not rated, 79 minutes