The project started with a quite different goal: One day I read a newspaper story about sweatshops in Los Angeles. It talked about the deplorable conditions faced by immigrants working in some downtown garment factories: long hours, sub-minimum-wage pay (or no pay), unsafe or unsanitary conditions, rats, roaches ... I simply couldn’t understand how this was possible. I was appalled. I had already made a short documentary, and so I set out to make a little film that would expose these issues and that would take about five months to complete. Or so I thought.
I approached L.A.’s Garment Worker Center, then newly opened, and started spending time there, sometimes filming, often just talking with workers. They were about to launch a campaign against a clothing retailer: a boycott and a lawsuit that would attempt to hold a retailer — Forever 21, which sells trendy clothes at cheap prices — accountable for the conditions where their clothes are made. The energy of those early days was electrifying, and I filmed everything that I could. As I started to get to know the workers, I was struck by their need to tell their personal stories. Stories of why they came to this country, of why they were doing garment work, of their hopes and fears for their children. They seemed surprised that I wanted to listen.
The five months that I had planned to devote to the project passed quickly and yet I felt that I might only be at the beginning. As the film began to grow, I sought out collaborators and met my producing partner, Robert Bahar. Through our invaluable collaboration, we began to reshape the film from a little documentary on sweatshops to a feature story focusing on the lives of three of the amazing women I encountered at the center: María Pineda, Maura Colorado, and Guadalupe “Lupe” Hernandez. I filmed them at home, at the noisy protests with their children, at meetings at the Garment Worker Center — virtually everywhere they’d allow me to follow them. I was so dedicated that Lupe used to tease me: “Little camera, one day you’ll leave me alone!”
If Made in L.A. were to accomplish anything, I would hope that it would provide a deeply human window into this oft-repeated struggle of immigrants. Wouldn’t you leave your children, no matter the danger, no matter the pain, in order to send back enough money to feed them, hoping to give them a better life? Wouldn’t you work day and night, no matter the physical and emotional drain, if you had four children to raise and you had no other options? And wouldn’t you overcome your fears and stand up one day to demand your rights in the workplace if you were constantly humiliated, underpaid, even spat at? What would you do — or not do — in order to survive?
Struggles cause people to change, and as the campaign dragged on, we were amazed to observe each woman’s growing sense of self-confidence and self-worth, their agency and empowerment. It then became clear to us that this was the real story and that their struggle against Forever 21 mattered not just for its own sake, but because it served as a catalyst for each of their individual stories. The story of María taking control and deciding to leave her husband. The story of Maura learning to cope with her fears and struggling to reunite with her children. The story of Lupe, who grew up feeling ugly and insignificant, becoming an organizer and one day reflecting on her path from atop Victoria’s Peak overlooking Hong Kong. Made in L.A. is a story about the decision to stand up, to say “I exist. And I have rights.”
I am humbled and honored to have been allowed to capture this on film. Like María, Maura, and Lupe, at the end of a long journey, we all got something that we had never expected.
— Almudena Carracedo
Almudena Carracedo, Producer/Director
Almudena Carracedo is the Emmy Award-winning director/producer/writer of the documentary Made in L.A. Five years in the making, Made in L.A. is Carracedo’s first feature documentary. Prior to working on Made in L.A., Carracedo worked as a television director in Spain, directing programs for broadcast on Canal Plus. In 2000, she came to the United States as an international scholar to work on her doctoral dissertation on U.S./Mexican border documentaries at UCLA. Her previous documentary on Tijuana as a border town, Welcome: A Docu-Journey of Impressions, received the Sterling Award for Best Short Documentary at Silverdocs Documentary Festival and was screened at numerous national and international festivals. Carracedo is the 2008 recipient of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers’ ESTELA Award and has served as a juror at several film festivals, including Silverdocs, the Valladolid International Film Festival and Santiago’s International Documentary Festival in Chile (FIDOCS).
Robert Bahar, Producer
Robert Bahar is the Emmy Award-winning producer/writer of the documentary Made in L.A., currently the focus of a multi-year do-it-yourself outreach and distribution initiative. Bahar previously produced and directed the award-winning documentary Laid to Waste and has line-produced and production managed independent films, including ITVS’s Diary of a City Priest, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and Pittsburgh, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. In addition to his work as a filmmaker, he is the director/co-founder of Doculink, a grassroots and online community of more than 2,500 documentary-makers. He has served on the board of the International Documentary Association and holds an M.F.A. from the Peter Stark Program at USC.