Pan African Film Festival features documentary

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I Build The Tower,” by Brad Byer and CSUN professor Edward Landler, is a beautifully created documentary about the Watts Towers and its creator, Samuel Rodia. The film was recently completed and screened Sunday at the 13th Pan African Film ‘ Arts Festival in Crenshaw.

The film begins chronicling Rodia’s life from his beginnings in Italy around the 1880s to his eventual arrival in Los Angeles by the 1920s, where he worked mostly as a brick mason.

After working for a few years, Rodia purchased a triangle shaped plot of land in Watts and began construction on the now infamous Watts Towers that took him about 20 years to complete.

Upon completion of the towers, Rodia moved in with his sister in Martinez, Calif.,where he died five years later. At that point in his life, Rodia was estranged from most of his family due to his reclusive nature and abnormal behavior.

Around the 1960s, the city wanted to destroy the towers and put them to a stress test to determine whether they were a danger to those who lived close by. The 10,000-pound stress test not only showed that the structure was good enough to remain standing, but showed the amazing craftsmanship and hard work put into these wonders of modern architecture.

While the film itself lacks some of the flash reserved for less substantial, more commercial documentaries, it surely shows the amount of care and dedication that went into the production.

The soundtrack consists of music found within the diverse community of Watts as well as classical music native to parts of Italy where Rodia originated. Throughout the documentary, viewers are treated to select sound bites of Rodia which paint a picture of a very charming, amusing man. and really explain what kind of person he was and how he felt about his towers.

Aside from old audio recordings, Landler and Byer met someone who had filmed 16 mm footage of Rodia speaking about his project and many instances of Rodia working on the towers, which reach about 90 feet at the highest point.

Very much like the construction of the Watts Towers, the documentary could certainly be considered a labor of love. It took about 20 years to compile interviews, perform extensive research, and film the towers, which were until recently undergoing renovations.

The project initially started when Byer met Landler at a Watts Towers social function. They discussed Rodia and the possibility of doing a documentary based on the initial research Byer had done about his great uncle.

According to Byer, his research started as a basic curiosity that later bloomed into something more substantial. Over the years they interviewed everyone from famed architecture aficionado Buckminster Fuller, who discussed the structural aspects of the towers and their unique construction methods. The filmmakers also spoke to many neighbors and friends who witnessed the towers being erected in their own backyard.

The two filmmakers plan to enter the film in several festivals, ranging from the Venice Film Festival to the Tribeca Film Festival. They are currently searching for a distributor for the eventual DVD release of the film, which will most likely come bundled with the soundtrack featured in the film, according to Byers.