Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin were both in grade school when the Los Angeles riots of 1992 erupted in the aftermath of a verdict that acquitted four white police officers in the shocking videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King.
Lindsay, 13 at the time, lived in Rockford, Illinois, and “was probably trying not to get beat up in middle school,” he joked. Martin, 12 at the time, lived in Seattle.
But, as history would have it, the two would come together 25 years later to direct a new movie from National Geographic Documentary Films that explores the infamous King beating and the ensuing riots a quarter-century after it gripped the nation.
The film, “LA92,” takes a riveting look back at the controversial trial of the officers, subsequent protests, police brutality and judicial bias through rarely-seen archival footage.
It debuted on Friday, April 21 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and is scheduled for a limited theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, April 28. The film will then make its television broadcast debut on National Geographic on Sunday, April 30.
“We worked on the film for about nine months and because it was archive-driven, we probably squeezed about two years of work into a nine-month period,” said Martin, who along with Lindsay, won an Oscar for “Undefeated.”
The anniversary proved an impetus for the project for most involved, Lindsay said.
“For TJ and I, our vision was less about the anniversary and more about an opportunity to explore a moment in history” Lindsay said. “A very relevant moment that’s important today and it’s one that allows you to explore America through the microcosm of this event.”
The goal “is to reframe the story of this tragedy for our modern audience, and we hope it will encourage reflection and debate as we wrestle with these very real conflicts that continue to plague America’s cities,” Martin said.
Lindsay and Martin gathered numerous archived footage from news, radio, personal home videos and police reports. Some of the videos, they said, had never seen the light of day.
Thus, “LA92,” features a host of rarely and never-before-seen video which not only captured the violence and the protests, but the effect the burning of a Los Angeles community had on Korean merchants who fled the area after the riots.
“We had a private screening, and a gentleman who grew up in Watts during the 1965 unrest there and who lived through the 1992 unrest noted how he still harbored a sense of animosity toward the Korean merchants because he felt there was a lot of exploitation,” Martin said. “After watching the film, he shared with us that he never really felt emotionally what the merchants had gone through and in doing so, in viewing the film, it shed new light on how he viewed the immigrant experience.”
Although there are a handful of other films about the 1992 unrest that are scheduled to be released on the anniversary this month, Martin and Lindsay said they don’t view those as competition.
“Going into the project we realized that many of the takeaways were insufficient,” Lindsay said, noting that, because of their age, there’s a bit of a disconnect compared with others who may have been old enough to understand in the moment the significance of what happened.
“Our disconnect from the material was primarily because of our age,” Martin said. “Revisiting the footage first and thinking of how to make those memories and bring them to life while adding to the conversation [was the goal].”
And King’s now-famous “Can’t we all just get along” proclamation served as a flashpoint.
“That became a pop culture statement, almost a joke at a certain point,” Lindsay said. “But you take moments like that and you lead the audience to when Rodney King gets up to speak, now you are there and hopefully, you have more empathy.”