Echo Park Dreamer

By our very own John Albert
via the LA WEEKLY

Movies have always been about dreams. This story is no different. Except this particular dream doesn’t lead to a self-congratulatory speech and a limousine ride into the Malibu Colony, but to a cluttered storefront on a busy Echo Park street not fully succumbed to gentrification. Paolo Davanzo definitely looks the part of a dreamer with his unruly mad-scientist hair and mischievous smile.

The 38-year-old is standing in what appears to be a small makeshift theater or a cluttered classroom. The space is called The Echo Park Film Center, and it is all of that and more. As the afternoon sunlight filters in through an open door, a group of local seniors sit before computers editing images under the tutelage of an instructor named Shauna McGarry. They are learning to make short films. A man named Jamie says he is making a film about a summer camp in Ecuador for low-income kids. An elderly electrician named Enrique works a keyboard with his calloused hands, trying to master the editing software. He says he wants to make a short promotional film about his business so he can advertise on the Internet. They have been coming to the class for several weeks and say they heard about the free workshop through fliers and word of mouth. As the seniors finish up, Davanzo and McGarry rearrange chairs in preparation for the night’s public screening of an underground documentary about local jazz musicians.

Davanzo’s dream, which would eventually become the nonprofit Film Center, was born out of death. Sitting at a table as the sun fades outside, he says the impetus started when his fervently progressive parents passed away. “My father and mother would always talk about the Black Panthers,” he says. “My mom worked in homeless shelters and was very active in the community. They instilled those values in me when I was growing up.” His father was from Italy and the family lived there until Paolo was 7. They then relocated to, of all places, Irvine, California. “It was a very surreal existence,” he says with a laugh. “My father romanticized the United States but it was kind of bizarre because they were these bohemians. They had lived in Paris and Venezuela and then suddenly we were in a middle-class suburban house in Irvine. But I grew up in alternative culture, playing in punk bands and doing zines. I never was part of the status quo.”

Davanzo says he became interested in non-narrative film while visiting relatives in Italy during the first Iraq war.

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