Six films with UCLA ties — most made by students and three preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive — are among 25 films entering the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2023. The films were chosen for the annual list because of their cultural, historic or aesthetic importance to the nation’s film heritage.
One of this year’s selections, which was largely unknown until the Archive’s recent restoration, is “We’re Alive” (1974), made by UCLA graduate students Kathy Levitt, Michie Gleason and Christine Lesiak and women incarcerated at the California Institution for Women in Chino, California.
“The documentary film shares the voices of a marginalized community rarely humanized in mainstream media and is likely the only film ever named to the national list made by people in prison,” said May Hong HaDuong, director of the Archive, a division of UCLA Library. “Few films bring to light the stark parallels between prison conditions in the 1970s and today.”
Earlier this year, the Archive co-presented the restoration premiere of the film with the UCLA Center for the Study of Women | Barbra Streisand Center. Following the screening, a panel discussion with the filmmakers and members of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners underscored the power of the stories of incarcerated women.
“We are grateful … especially to the women you meet in the film,” Levitt said. “Their words were powerful in 1974, and they continue to resonate today. The dedication of the film still holds: ‘To all the women before. To all the women after. From the women now.’”
Five of the six films chosen for the registry were made by Bruins, two of which — “We’re Alive” and Larry Clark’s “Passing Through” — were preserved by the Archive. The third film preserved by the Archive is John Sayles’ “Matewan” (available through the Criterion Collection).
“The Archive is honored to have preserved three films from the list selected to reflect the scope and diversity of American film history,” said HaDuong, a member of the National Film Preservation Board, which each year recommends films to the Librarian of Congress for inclusion in the registry.
The 2023 UCLA-affiliated National Film Registry titles are:
Cruisin’ J-Town (1975)
Directed by Duane Kubo, who earned a UCLA bachelor’s degree in astronomy and astrophysics in 1974.
This short documentary explores the roots of the popular jazz fusion band Hiroshima in Los Angeles’ pre-redevelopment Little Tokyo. The group members discuss the sociological, political and cultural pulse of the early 1970s while reflecting on influences in Asian American music.
Love & Basketball (2000)
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television in 1991.
Prince-Bythewood’s film follows childhood friends Quincy McCall (Omar Epps) and Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) as they grow into adulthood and fall in love while sharing another all-consuming passion: basketball.
Based on a true incident in the impoverished but coal-rich hills of West Virginia in the 1920s, writer-director John Sayles’ masterpiece is an unforgettable portrait of a community struggling to assert itself under the crushing dominance of capitalist greed.
Passing Through (1977)
Directed by Larry Clark, a contributor to the L.A. Rebellion film movement, while working on his MFA at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television in 1977.
“Passing Through” follows Eddie Warmack, an African American jazz musician released from prison after serving time for the killing of a white gangster. Not willing to play for the mobsters who control the music industry, including clubs and recording studios, Warmack searches for his mentor and grandfather, a legendary jazz musician.
Queen of Diamonds (1991)
Produced and directed by Nina Menkes, who earned an MFA from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television in 1989.
“Queen of Diamonds” is a subversive rumination on isolation and despair. Following the titular “queen,” a casino blackjack dealer played by filmmaker Menkes’ longtime collaborator and sister Tinka, the film unfolds with a “Jeanne Dielman”–esque patience.
We’re Alive (1974)
Directed by UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television students Michie Gleason, MFA in 1983; Christine Mohanna Lesiak, MFA in 1977; and Kathy Levitt, MFA in 1983.
Driven by the filmmakers’ activism and interest in the experiences of incarcerated women and a desire to chronicle their stories, this documentary was produced during a video workshop at California Institution for Women, then the largest women’s prison in the United States.