L.A. River advocate Kat Superfisky is the subject of a new docuseries.
“It’s hard to tell the story of the L.A. River without flying through it,” says Michael Todoran, a landscape designer, lecturer, and podcast host. Along with his students at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, in January Todoran began filming “Superfisky: The Allure of the Urban Wild,” the first episode of Larchitect, a docuseries devoted to landscape architecture. This in-progress episode focuses on Kat Superfisky, a landscape designer, ecologist, and educator working to restore the natural beauty and native plant life on the shores of the mostly concrete-lined waterway. When the landscape, specifically the Los Angeles River, is a supporting character in your story, visual exposition becomes critical. The best solution was a helicopter shot that showed the true breadth and boundless energy of this body of water.
Challenged by the lockdowns and distancing of COVID-19, the film crew obtained aerial footage in April via a bit of serendipity: Todoran saw footage on YouTube uploaded by the helicopter pilot Micah Muzio of a then newly desolate Los Angeles, reached out, and was rewarded with golden-hour footage of the river’s entire expanse.
That footage, and the story behind it, undergirds the DIY, music-doc drive the trailer and finished footage convey. Superfisky, a colleague of Todoran’s at Cal Poly Pomona, exudes lead singer vibes, Todoran says, and is a charismatic, passionate practitioner who can captivate audiences. Point-of-view shots from a GoPro strapped to her chest show her hands and arms in dynamic motion as she talks. The class watched Chinatown, another L.A. River story, to get inspired. The graffiti legend Marcel “Sel” Blanco did the title credits. The cameras capture Superfisky during a season of change: working on the river and mourning the loss of her mentor Lewis MacAdams, who founded Friends of the Los Angeles River in 1986 and is largely credited with kick-starting the river’s revitalization.
Todoran is working to finish editing and postproduction for the first episode outside of class, with a hoped-for July 2021 release date. (Supporters can preorder the film and donate at superfiskyfilm.com.) He’s most proud of the personality and storytelling that come through the footage. The feeling of his Landscape Architecture Podcast—which offers long-form, unfiltered opportunities to talk processes and explore the lives of people in the profession—informs what he hopes will become a similarly deep visual portrait of Superfisky.
“When you share these stories and vulnerabilities, there is real impact,” he says. “I’m a firm believer in allowing your true self out.”
Patrick Sisson is a Los Angeles-based writer and reporter focused on urbanism, architecture, design, and the trends that shape cities.