Echo Park Film Center Celebrates Santa Monica's Camera Obscura

December 6, 2018 10:00 AM
by Naomi Okuyama

We talk with Paolo Davanzo, Founder/Executive Director and Lisa Marr, Operations Director/Youth Film Coordinator of the Echo Park Film Center.

Q: Thanks for helping us celebrate the 120th anniversary of Santa Monica's Camera Obscura! What drew Echo Park Film Center to propose this project?

The Camera Obscura is a local treasure that’s been fascinating and delighting us for years, so it’s a real joy to have the opportunity to work in/with/around it for a whole month. Our Art Lab project is titled Devices of Wonder because we’re excited to explore the playful nature of cinema and pre-cinema techniques and technologies with the larger Santa Monica community of families, artists, students, tourists and whoever else walks through the door. And at the grand old age of 120, the Camera Obscura is a homegrown Device of Wonder worth celebrating!


Q: Tell us more about your City Symphonies?

Initially developed as part of Echo Park Film Center’s free youth filmmaking program, The Sound We See uses analog filmmaking techniques and the “City Symphony” genre practiced in the 1920s by Walter Ruttmann and Dziga Vertov as starting points to explore communal creative process and contemporary urban environments. The project sparked a global “Slow Film” movement with youth and multi-generational communities in Vietnam, India, Canada, Europe, Mexico, South America and Japan creating their own 16mm and Super 8 City Symphonies, not only shooting but processing (using both traditional and eco-friendly chemistry) and editing the film by hand, and presenting public exhibitions of the finished work in non-traditional venues.

All the films look at a 24-hour period in a given city, with each hour of the day represented as one minute on film, but each community pushes the process to new directions and discoveries; The Sound We See is an ongoing cinematic conversation on the relevance of handmade film in the 21st century.

We’re excited to share some of these films with the public as part of our project! We’ll also be offering a workshop where folks can learn how to shoot and process Super 8 film by hand using organic ingredients from the kitchen and garden.

Q: How does the mission of EPFC mesh with what you're doing here? How does your co-op work?

We all have a story to tell but not everyone has access to the tools, the time, and the mentorship to share these amazing tales with the world. EPFC’s mission and passion is providing equal and affordable access to film and video education and resources… and there’s nothing we love more than working with new communities to make some cinematic magic together! The EPFC Co-op is a multi-generational group of 20 diverse individuals who collectively create and facilitate our huge array of programs and services. Coming from all walks of life, Co-op members include both experienced and emerging filmmakers, queer identifying filmmakers, artists of color, art school graduates and self-taught makers, cinema activists and EPFC youth film program alumni. EPFC shines brightest when there are many visions and voices in the mix. We can’t wait to bring a little bit of Echo Park to Santa Monica!

Q: Why analog film techniques?

We love analog filmmaking because it’s so fun and easy for anyone and everyone to learn. The results are always unique and beautiful, and the process of working non-digitally with recycled and repurposed materials comes with the DIY spirit that we love so much! Super 8 and 16mm film are good vehicles for community engagement – to bring people together, to experiment with handmade processes, to move away from the idea of perfection and into the realm of experience. Eco-processing film with local flowers, fruits and plants it is like making a soup: everyone gets their fingers in it and stirs it around, waiting to see the results and then celebrating the final product as it’s projected for the first time – that moment of connection and WOW! is what we’re interested in sharing and celebrating.

Q: How can people take part in your project? Are there any prerequisites?

Everyone is welcome to participate! No prior film experience is necessary and there are no prerequisites except an open heart and a desire to create something magical in a communal setting. Sign up for a workshop, come to a screening, or just drop by during our “artist hours to hang out or help work on our group project celebrating the Camera Obscura’s 120-year history with a dynamic combination of archival materials, animation, sound recordings, and eco-processed Super 8 film.

Q: What's next after this project for EPFC?

There’s always something fun, exciting and inspiring going on at EPFC… As we enter our 18th year of operation, we’re offering more programs to more people of all ages than ever before. And if you can’t make it to Echo Park to catch a screening, workshop or special event, our mobile fleet can come to you! The EPFC Filmmobile is an old school bus that runs on solar power and waste vegetable oil, the Filmcicle is a Danish-style bike that brings films to off-the-grid places with pedal power, and the LA AIRport is a film lab, mini-cine and artist residency space all rolled into one adorable little trailer.

Join the cinematic revolution! Find out more about all our programs and services at

Authored By

Naomi Okuyama
Cultural Affairs Supervisor