Local Journalism Happens With YouSupport

‘Wyvernwood Chronicles’ Film Series Documents Joy in the Face of Displacement

Tonight, the first in an intimate series of portraits of the Wyvernwood Gardens Apartment Complex premieres at 2220 Arts + Archives.

Community in Wyvernwood Garden Apartment Complex gathers at night
Shot from the Wyvernwood Chronicles: Part 1 (Courtesy of Los Angeles Filmforum)

Tonight, 2220 Arts+Archives will be featuring two documentaries on the Wyvernwood Garden Apartment Complex in East Los Angeles, as part of a series of films on the community. An additional series of short films by the same director, Diego Robles, will be shown in August. 

Wyvernwood: The Garden City is a feature-length piece documenting the daily lives and community gatherings of the residents of the nearly 1,200-unit Wyvernwood complex. It’s a searingly intimate portrait of both the celebrations and struggles of the residents, and portrays the community as a world unto itself. 

The series is programmed by Los Angeles Filmforum. “I find this film to be a really important way to talk about community within the larger issue of a housing crisis,” says programmer Jorge Ravelo, who wanted to arrange a series about Los Angeles housing. “It’s not from an academic point of view, and Wyvernwood is organized with a coalition within the community, and the way that everything in their community is intertwined with organizing and the way the film documents that makes the viewer a witness to that. It’s also a locally made film about the city of Los Angeles.” 

Knock LA spoke to filmmaker Robles and long-term Wyvernwood Gardens resident Roberto Mojica about the series. 

After graduating with a film degree from UCLA in 2006, Robles says he started working on documenting the Wyvernwood Gardens when he was introduced to Karina Muñiz, who worked at the Los Angeles Conservancy. At the time, Robles worked with a media collective called LA CoMedia, and was asked to collaborate on a film project in Boyle Heights. 

Along with filmmaker and UCLA professor Fabian Wagmister —who runs Hypermedia Studio, which worked with different communities in LA on film projects -—he showed some of the work he had done to community members.

Robles says that the largely Latinex media collective worked for about two and a half years, and got a stipend from the LA conservancy for workshops and events.

In the meantime, Robles worked other jobs as a math tutor, English language tutor, and more. He went to CalArts for graduate school, and chose to work with Wyvernwood Gardens again. Robles worked for a professor after graduating, who advised him to do an in-depth exploration on one site, rather than exploring different places. The notion stuck with Robles. 

He wanted to focus on architecture, multi-family housing, urban planning and “how they can be designed in ways that are unequal.”

He found that the architecture of Wyvernwood, designed with shared outdoor courtyards and communal space, fostered neighborly relationships, where residents could rely on each other to take care of each other’s kids, pets, and other needs. 

“The community was very resilient in resisting demolition, gentrification, displacement and erasure. I also wanted to show how human these communities are. People age. Some people pass. Things shift,” says Robles.

Wynernwood Garden resident perform a religious ceremony.
Shot from the Wyvernwood Chronicles: Part 1 (Courtesy of Los Angeles Filmforum)

Roberto Mojica was born in Mexico City, and has lived in Wyvernwood Gardens for 35 years. He says when he first arrived in Wyvernwood as a kid, the main issue was crime, but then the fear of constant harassment by ownership of the complex became a much bigger issue. On top of this, there  was an issue with lead contamination, which led to the city forcing the landlords to rehabilitate the apartments.

Mojica says that after the cleanup, the landlords replaced the wood in apartments with lower-cost materials. “Right after they were done, [ownership] sent a letter to the community saying that they got the right from the city to charge for all the expenses cleaning up the apartments, and they asked the community to pay for it.”

He says Comité de la Esperanza — a neighborhood group dedicated to fighting for the community — got together to fight against paying the costs. 

Mojica says they ended up not having to pay the full amount, but to the whole community “it was very unfair. That was the beginning of the nightmare of Wyvernwood … you’re talking about a working class community where many individuals, like my parents, couldn’t miss one day of work.”

He says that ownership would try to evict and get rid of as many tenants with subsidized rent as possible, so that they could charge market rates to new tenants. Then the ownership group presented a plan to demolish Wyvernwood and build 4,400 new units with retail space at the bottom. 

“Our community was able to defeat a $2 billion project in Los Angeles with just regular people.”

Though that particular redevelopment did not succeed, residents still face displacement in the face of the ownership group’s current redevelopment plan. 

Through it all, he says he always felt a sense of community. He says Robles came in to help the community create visual stories. He says he was initially worried about how professional the idea of a documentary sounded.

“We were not trusting to outsiders, because we did not know if they were trying to shape us, or use us for their advantage,” he says. But the process ended up feeling very different than he initially thought it would be. 

“They would sit down with older community members, and they were able to tell their stories … I knew these people for a long time, and I never had any idea about some of these stories. Some people remembered things over tears … they talked about how living in Wyvernwood changed their lives.”

Mojica says the work that the documentary crew did was instrumental in their fight against this massive development company.

“People have the assumption that the people who live in Wyvernwood are somehow some low-quality people living in projects that benefit from the government. We’re a working class community, who are united and bonded … it feels completely different living in Wyvernwood than in the rest of Los Angeles.”

“Everyone needs to stop what they’re doing and listen,” Robles felt, once he had begun documenting the stories of the residents at Wyvernwood. With this film series by Los Angeles Filmforum, viewers are encouraged to not just listen but to witness. 

Los Angeles Filmforum presents The Wyvernwood Chronicles: Part 1. In person: filmmaker Diego Robles, Wyvernwood resident Roberto Mojica, and programmer Jorge Ravelo.

The Wyvernwood Chronicles: Part 1 

2220 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90057

7:30 PM. Tickets: $8