Trailer + Producers Talk About Film ‘LA 92’ Offering a Rare Look at The L.A. Riots 25 Years Ago
In 2016, with the 25th anniversary of the violence in Los Angeles approaching — and angry protests over police misconduct once again erupting in cities throughout the U.S. — award-winning producers Simon Chinn and Jonathan Chinn knew it was the right time to revisit the tumultuous events of 1992.
“The LA riots happened a quarter century ago, but we are still struggling with the root causes of those riots today,” says Jonathan Chinn. “It’s clear from the events that occurred in Ferguson and Baltimore last year that as a nation we are still finding our way in terms of escaping the cycle of racial oppression, police brutality, socioeconomic inequality — and the inevitable protest that results from these things.”
The Chinns, cousins who together run the prolific multimedia production company Lightbox, pitched the idea to National Geographic Documentary Films by cutting together a “mood reel” of archival footage from the period. “The next day, Nat Geo called us to say they were interested in commissioning it as a feature documentary,” says Simon Chinn, who won Oscars for producing the documentaries “Searching for Sugar Man” and “Man on Wire.”
“Simon and Jonathan are insanely talented filmmakers, experts at telling provocative, timely stories in unconventional ways,” says Tim Pastore, president of original programming and production for National Geographic. “As our country continues to wrestle with racial injustice, the LA riots are as relevant and as raw today as they were 25 years ago — we knew they’d do this story justice.”
To direct the ambitious project, the producers turned to Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin. “Dan and TJ are just incredible filmmakers,” says Jonathan Chinn, an Emmy winner whose credits include the FX series “30 Days” and PBS’ “American High.” “Their film ‘Undefeated’ is a masterpiece of verite documentary filmmaking. They approached this topic with such thoughtfulness and artistic flair that we knew the film would be in very good hands under their care.”
Lindsay and Martin, who hail from Rockford, Illinois, and Seattle, Washington, respectively, hadn’t yet graduated high school in 1992. So, like many Americans, their previous knowledge of the events of that year was based mainly on their recollections of a few iconic moments they had seen on television. “Most of us tend to remember the Rodney King tape, the Reginald Denny incident at Florence and Normandie and the ‘Can’t we all get along’ speech that Rodney King gave,” says Lindsay.
But when the pair saw the reel of less well known footage assembled by the producers, they were stunned. “I was shocked to see some of those images,” says Lindsay. “Like the scenes of Korean merchants defending their businesses. And the moment when an African-American store owner named Art Washington pleads with looters and asks them why they’re doing what they’re doing. Those were things I hadn’t seen.”
The filmmakers were convinced that the passion conveyed in videos like those would tell the story far more eloquently than any narrator or “talking head” interviews could. “Our guidepost is always to find the emotion in the experience and immerse the audience in it so they can come to their own conclusions intellectually and emotionally,” says Martin. “Rather than interviewing someone and presenting them as the authority on the subject matter, our intention is to put the viewer back in the experience and have them wrestle with the conflicting emotions the city and the country were going through at the time.”