In "The Land of Orange Groves & Jails" my reluctant great-aunt Yetta finally tells me her tale of teenage activism during the free speech and labor battles of 1920s Los Angeles. Her arrest for flying a red flag over a summer camp resulted in the US Supreme Court’s first victory for free speech in 1931 - inadvertently changing the course of free speech history... and laying important groundwork for our right to protest and dissent. This is a "David and Goliath" story of young people from immigrant families who stood up for their beliefs in labor unions and racial justice - and helped guarantee one of America’s most treasured freedoms.
But past mixes with present as the filmmaking unfolds: as I learn about my family's activist history I have to confront a multi-generational legacy of secrecy and fear. In the beginning my reluctant subject, Aunt Yetta, thinks what's going on now politically is so much more important than the past - but by the end of the film we both see how her story set a powerful precedent for current struggles. The film uses booming 1920s Los Angeles as a lens onto a piece of our nation’s history that seems especially relevant today. The title is taken from a story Upton Sinclair wrote about Yetta's trial.