‘Port Town’ and A Diverse Corner of LA

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Tonight I caught a screening of Port Town, a film about life on the edge of Los Angeles in my native San Pedro at the historic Warner Grand Theater.

For a bargain $10, I spent a few hours reconnecting with the San Pedro in which I grew up, catching up with the San Pedro that’s growing up around me right now, and learning more about the people who call San Pedro home and have done their best to make it a better place. Written and directed by San Pedro local Jack Baric, the film is a collection of vignettes: our towns greatest love story, a local football team’s big fight, a Sicilian fisherman’s struggle in a nearly forgotten industry, the POW from San Pedro who called the Hanoi Hilton home for too many years to imagine.

Most of those stories are at least passingly familiar to San Pedrans. Two segments, however, were educational in unexpected ways.

First, “Artists and Musicians Must DIY,” explored San Pedro’s burgeoning art community and made it a point to connect these new arrivals to the town’s historic attitude that makes it a natural destination for free thinkers and tellers of tales. As a former fishing and sailing empire of sorts, San Pedro couldn’t help but foster those who seek to tell a story – old yarns from boat captains have given way to photographers, painters, and musicians. In perhaps an unlikely pairing, those creative souls are introduced along side Channel Street Skatepark builder Andy Harris – whose quest to find a safe, dedicated space for his sport and expression led him to build his own damn park – slow city planning and feet-dragging be damned. The fine-we’ll-do-it-ourselves ethic runs deep here and, I would argue, is the source of much of the tension lately between the build-its and the don’ts. Many residents see the vibrant galleries springing up along 6th and 7th Streets downtown, fewer may be familiar with San Pedro’s gift to music history in the form of The Minutemen, and fewer yet know much about the Skatepark, but Baric does a fine job explaining how these aspects of local life came to be, how they interact, and how they relate to the more familiar memories of fishing fleets, thriving canneries, and local athletic stars.

“Croatian Freedom Runners” tells the story of many of San Pedro’s large Croatian immigrant population. It isn’t hard to find the relevance of the Baric and Fantov families’ daring escapes from communism in the context of current immigration debates. Narrowly escaping in borrowed boats, begging for help from passing Italian fisherman, these families – representatives of many similar San Pedro stories – spent years making it to American soil. Once here, they spent days working locally and nights learning English at Pedro High. They settled here, made cevapcici a normal part of town events, and instilled in the community a respect for hard work, a love for America, and a reminder never to take freedom for granted. (btw: learn more about Croatia and the Croatian-American story at the Croatian Cultural Center, also located in San Pedro.)

It would be easy for anyone to claim this film as his or her own story, because at it’s heart, Port Town is a uniquely American story. It’s also a uniquely Los Angeles story. And a uniquely San Pedro story. Small towns are small towns throughout the world – even if the modern small town is defined less by geography and more by demography, work life, and technological connection. Even if you’ve never been to San Pedro, it’s easy to envy the passion with which the film’s San Pedrans love their home. Catch this film and you’ll begin thinking about how you’d profile your own town before the house lights come up.

Catch Port Town, Written and Directed by Jack Baric, this Sunday afternoon at 3:00pm at the historic Warner Grand Theater in Downtown San Pedro. Tickets available online or at the door – $10/$8 for seniors and students. Can’t make the show? Support your local filmmaker and order the DVD.

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