Can You Dig This?

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Can You Dig This? Movie Poster Image
Inspiring docu about urban gardening; some profanity, drugs.
  • NR
  • 2015
  • 80 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

Promotes the significantly life-changing effects of small, meaningful personal efforts -- in this case, gardening and beautifying a blighted community: "If you put beauty in a place that doesn't have it, it's a game changer." Shows the value of an individual taking on a project and using perseverance to see it through. Advocates a life of purpose, patience, hopefulness, and overcoming even horrific obstacles in one's path. Additional themes include compassion, integrity, humility, and gratitude.

Positive role models & representations

Each character's experience tells the story of growth, renewed hope, and the joy of accomplishment. All are outstanding examples of how finding dignity, self-worth, and a sense of purpose changes lives.

Violence

No on-camera violence. References to crimes committed. In background gunshots can be heard; a police presence (cars and helicopters) is observed. A woman slaps a dog.

Sex

Young couple is flirtatious.

Language

Occasional profanity: "f--k," "s--t," "crap," the "N" word, "pee," "a--hole."

Consumerism

A few images of products on clothing: Hello Kitty, Ratchets Denim Co. A reference to Kindle.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

References to drug use. People smoke marijuana in several scenes. Wine drinking. Cigarette smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Can You Dig This? is a documentary set in South Central Los Angeles, California, an infamously gang-plagued, often violent conglomeration of neighborhoods in which economically disadvantaged people struggle to survive. Filmmaker Delila Vallot, whose own father lived in this mostly African-American community, returns to discover a small coterie of earnest "gangster" or "renegade" gardeners who have found hope, meaning, and a new way of life simply by tilling the soil and growing things in a bleak environment. By focusing on only a few of the growers, from a young girl to a senior ex-convict, the film brings to life the dramatic and very personal changes that occur. There is occasional profanity ("f--k," "s--t," the "N" word), and the adverse influence of drugs/drinking, gangs, and violence in the community is clear. Several characters share and smoke marijuana on-camera. Despite these things, the film is constructive, uplifting, and earnest. It's best for mature teens and may motivate thoughtful discussion for families who watch together.

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What's the story?

Filmmaker Delila Vallot goes home to South Central Los Angeles in CAN YOU DIG THIS? In a place where she was once frightened as a child, Vallot uncovers a remarkable truth: The simple act of creating a garden can change lives. Over the period of one year, Vallot films that transformation. She follows a diverse group of "gardeners." Their unique journeys -- Spicey, a desperate gangbanger; Hosea, a forlorn ex-convict; Quimone, an anxious little girl; Kenya, a young woman plagued by substance abuse and lack of motivation; and Ron Finley, a brilliant "renegade" gardener and community activist -- are united only by their common experience. Each one of her subjects encounters significant obstacles: health issues, governmental interference, loss, and some problems of their own making. Integrated throughout, Vallot takes a look at a wider issue facing the area: There's little access to fresh, healthy food, and folks are forced to rely on cheap convenience vendors and unhealthy processed foods.

Is it any good?

Director Delila Vallot's ability to find the defining moments in the lives of her characters in South Central makes for intense "rooting interest" in a remarkable film. It's humanizing above all else; a community that is often defined by its poverty, violence, and hopelessness is defined instead by the audience's journey with a few of its most vulnerable members. Caution: In an effort to accurately portray the grim reality of the neighborhoods, Vallot has included profanity, marijuana use, and references to violence, which may preempt viewing by younger kids who might otherwise find Can You Dig This? uplifting and memorable. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the use of the term "inspirational" when describing films. What does it mean, and what about this movie is inspiring? Why are such films valuable to the wider community? What other kinds of activities might be inspirational for you? Did Can You Dig This? inspire you?

  • Think about the use of profanity in this film. Why do you think the filmmaker kept it in the movie when she could have taken it out? How did such language bring reality to the movie's vision of the community and the people? Do you agree with her decision?

  • Try to imagine little Quimone's future. How do you think her discovery of gardening will affect her life? 

  • In what way do you think Ron Finley's life was changed by participating in this film? Do you think he would have become an activist and speaker if had never met Delila Vallot? Why, or why not?

  • How does Can You Dig This? promote compassion, perseverance, and integrity? What about humility and gratitude? Why are these important character strengths?

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