THE AVENUE by Alan Williams, Tucson

This locally produced documentary tells a cautionary tale about how the local character of a street can be destroyed by corporate take-overs and buy-outs.  The documentary starts out showing excerpts from the documentary, Mill Ave, Inc., about how large corporations took over the artsy Mill Avenue in Tempe, AZ and made it into a stale, characterless street with a diluted sense of community.  Alan Williams' film, The Avenue, goes on to show how local Tucson 4th Avenue businesses have maintained their local flavor. 

This well researched and well-organized documentary goes into the rich history of 4th Avenue, starting in the late '60's and early 70's when 4th Avenue offered artists and musicians a safe home for unrestricted self-expression.  I am a big fan of Frank Zappa (R.I.P.) and I was so impressed that Frank spent 5 days hanging out in Tucson and even DJ-ed a little for the former Tucson radio station, KWFM.  Every great famous band from the 70's and 80's seemed to go through Tucson, including Van Halen, Tom Waits, Led Zeppelin, just to name a few!  The film also explained how corporate marketing started to erode the freedom of expression on music radio stations.  By the way, I've only lived in Tucson for 4 years.

So how does 4th Avenue in Tucson keep it's local flavor and how did Mill Avenue in Tempe lose theirs?  The various interviews with Tucson business owners explained that 4th Avenue businesses own their buildings thereby giving them more self-empowerment and stability. Another factor is that the 4th Ave Business Association is very well organized and accomplishes a lot to keep the district thriving.  I also gathered from this film that 4th Ave does not really receive much help from the City of Tucson; they are almost completely self-sufficient.  These factors keep the district from being bought out by large corporations. Interestingly,  the 4th Avenue business philosophy of existing not just for the money also protects them.  On the other hand, the merchants on Mill Avenue were brought down by exorbitant business license fees which they couldn't afford.  Did they not own their buildings?  Could they have had a tighter business community to fight off these fees?

An interesting discussion about the Rio Nuevo, the project to revitalize downtown Tucson, brought out how out of touch city government seems to be with its constituents.  Maybe there is some wasteful spending or missing money?  Just a thought.  I could go on and on, because there is a lot of provocative information in this film.

My only complaint is the film's tag line, "4th Avenue is resisting the New World Order."  Being a conspiracy buff, I was very intrigued, but let down.  There was only one mention of the "New World Order" in the film and that was the quote above from one of the merchants.  For me, it would have been very interesting to go more into depth about what the New World Order is and how it is exemplified in the film.  Having done a lot of research on the topic, I think I know how it is manifesting here, but those unfamiliar with this term would not.  What the film presents really just looks like corporate fascism on the move.  The way we can stop this move, is to buy locally, further develop our self-sufficiency and appreciate the rich diversity  we have in Tucson that is disappearing all over the country. 

In spite of my complaint, it is a must-see documentary for all Tucsonans and hopefully will be appreciated by everyone outside of Tucson.  And remember the moral of the story!  Buy local and get to know your neighbors.  For an abundant life, develop community and connectedness!