You can probably guess where Amanda Marsalis's debut feature, "Echo Park," is set. Once considered a rough part of town, the neighborhood (just like the movie) is now teeming with hipsters, coffee shops and record stores.
"Echo Park" circa 2016 isn't the first indie drama to use the area as a backdrop. Thirty years ago, in 1986, Susan Dey starred as a waitress and single mom living a boho, artsy life surrounded by other boho, artsy types in the other film called "Echo Park."
The 2016 version of this slice-of-life drama stars Mamie Gummer as a successful designer, Sophie, who moves from the westside to Echo Park after a breakup. She meets Alex (played by Tony Okungbowa) and the two start a relationship.
Marsalis and Okungbowa, who also co-produced the film, talked with Alex Cohen about Marsalis's previous work as a photographer, the way the film impacted their views on love and how Hollywood can be more inclusive of diverse voices.
Although the movie features an interracial couple — Sophie is white and Alex is black — the filmmakers chose not to highlight the racial dynamic. “[Inter-racial dating] is our reality,” says Okungbowa. The problems between Sophie and Alex are less about race and more about geography: Sophie is westside and Alex is eastside.
But it’s their differences that bring the couple together. Marsalis says:
"They begin to understand themselves better because it's reflected back from somebody that's so different. If you're surrounded constantly by people who are the same as you, you might not understand yourself as well because you're part of a collective in a way and this really puts both their lives into focus."
The film is distributed by Array, Ava DuVernay’s distribution company, which focuses on promoting the work of female filmmakers and filmmakers of color. Marsalis and Okungbowa agree that this made a huge difference in bringing the film to life. Okungbowa says:
"The way forward is taking control. Taking control of distribution outlets, taking control of creating material, taking control of telling stories. It makes a difference who helms a story and those things can only be taken care of by the right people at the top."
"Echo Park" opens this weekend at the Downtown Independent Theater in Los Angeles. You can also watch it on Netflix.