Gary Alvarez fronts the band Rhythmic Asylum, regulars at the weekend backyard parties in Los Angles featured in Angela Boatwright’s film Los Punks: We Are All We Have. The movie, which premiered at the Slamdance festival earlier this year, was produced by Vans, which will host a screening at its Brooklyn House of Vans on May 26. Los Punks will be released on iTunes on May 27.
The film shows a shirtless, growling, and thrashing Alvarez performing the music he describes in the movie as expressing “La Tristeza”…the sadness of living in the hood.
“It’s the inner turmoil we feel inside as working class communities, as people coming from lower income backgrounds,” he explains. “What else are you going to do but escape?”
It’s a time-honored, and here site-specific, sentiment, represented by the endearing Alvarez and other characters in Boatwright’s portrait of Latino youth in East Los Angeles and South Central.
“I love heavy metal music and punk music,” says Boatwright, who had similar experiences as a teen in growing up in Ohio. “Being young, going to shows, staying out late. I can relate to it personally.”
Boatwright was introduced to backyard parties in East L.A. after moving to California from New York. She notes that what’s happening now is the continuation of a scene which has existed for the past 40 years.
“The subject was riveting right from the start,” says Vans’ Doug Palladini, who had assigned Boatwright the task of “finding a Vans story and bringing it to life.” He commissioned a series of webisodes documenting the scene in East L.A., and later served as executive producer for the Vans-funded documentary feature.
“We’ve been a long format storyteller for some time,” Palladini tells Billboard, citing the skateboarding essential Dogtown and Z-Boys, and No Room for Rock Stars, a 2012 documentary about the long-running Vans Warped Tour. “Documentaries are an important way to tell these stories. It’s not about over-branding, but about films that express our ethos.”
Boatwright is also working on a photo book of the images of the musicians and party-goers she’s been following for the last four years.
“My main objective with the film was to tell some individual stories,” she explains. “It was about giving them the space to tell their own stories and talk about themselves and express themsleves.”
Alvarez, the Rhymic Asylum frontman, is pursuing a career as an attorney. In one scene, he appears clad in a button-down shirt at a family celebration in the one bedroom he shares with his “super Catholic, super disciplined” parents, who emigrated to the United States from El Salvador and Guatemala, his brother and grandmother.
Sitting beside his mother, he grabs a karaoke mike to sing an off-key interpretation of “Guantanamera.”
“It took me a while to realize that most of the punks here were Latino,” Boatwright says. “They are all interesting stories. And very American stories.”