Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 3

Last Saturday at Docfest started wtih a local interest short + work-in-progress feature + panel discussion, all collectively under the title 780 FREDERICK: The Struggle for Urban Recycling and Community Gardens. First, the short, MY GARBAGE, MY NEIGHBORHOOD started as a film school project by Soumyaa Kapil Behrens. Through it, she became involved in the work of the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council, and in particular it's recycling buyback center located at 780 Frederick Street, in a corner of Golden Gate Park next to Kezar Stadium. While many see it as a valuable community service, others view it as "ATM for the homeless" who are making the park sooooooo unpleasant. So they're trying to shut down HANC and evict the recycling center and put up a community garden instead (in response, HANC has added a community garden to prove they can live side-by-side.) Opponents of HANC (at least in the film) don't have any plans for where the homeless will go, and since San Francisco has a zero waste law if the recycling center wasn't there the local stores would be forced to buy back recyclables anyway (I guess possibly dispersing the "homeless ATM's" to multiple locations?)

Anyway, Soumyaa is currently expanding the short to a feature called 780 FREDERICK, and we were also treated to some extra footage that was shot for that (my favorite part was the professor who talked about how the homeless have become the new [epithet for black] or [epithet for homosexual]. They're the newest group that you can publicly speak ill about--to the point of wanting to "eliminate" them--without fear of social reproach.

And then we had a fairly long panel discussion on the subject, with Soumyaa and several of the people from the film--ranging from an eviction lawyer to the operator of HANC's recycling center to a veteran who recycles for a bit of extra cash. It was an interesting look at a situation that I (as a former East Bay guy who's now a South Bay guy) didn't really know was going on. And it's pretty clear what side the film, the panel, and the whole audience came down on, so in that regards it was a lot of agreement with no chance to confront the opposing views (although a good amount of that is done in the film.) Still, an interesting and eye-opening way to start the day.

Next up we went DOWNEAST to Maine to open a Lobster processing plant. Gouldsboro, Maine has been hit hard economically ever since its sardine cannery closed down. Enter our hero, Italian immigrant Antonio Bussone, with a grand plan to re-open the factory as a lobster packaging plant. Should be a boon to the hard-hit community, so nobody could possibly oppose it, right? Well, I've noticed one theme of the festival (continuing from BATTLE FOR BROOKLYN and 780 FREDERICK) has been people's problematic relationships with the government. And for Antonio, that problem is mostly with the local selectman (think, "city council member") who happens to be in the lobster business himself. He makes it hard to get grants or loan guarantees to convert the factory (note, there are non-nefarious reasons behind this, mostly that if the plant fails after gettting the loan, the city could be left on the hook to pay off the loan. But in my opinion the movie portrays him more as a villain.) Nevertheless Antonio presses on. And at least for a bit it seems like success is possible. But financing is a constant problem, when one customer's check (for ~$90,000 if I recall correctly) bounces that sets in motion a series of cash-flow catastrophes that lead to his accounts being frozen by the bank. It becomes a horribly depressing tone poem that highlights the difference between the working class (the mostly elderly women who just want the chance to work a long, honest, exhausting day processing seafood and picking up a paycheck at the end) and the investor class (bankers and business owners fighting over financing.) You gotta feel for Antonio, not just because his investment is going down the drain but because you can see him feeling the weight of all the workers who are depending on him. I tend to get pretty cynical about the politics and rhetoric of "job creators" but here's a case where I definitely sympathize with at least one job creator.

BTW, as an update it seems the plant was recently bought by Garbo Lobster, so at least there appears to be a continuation for the workers, even if Antonio's part in the story is over.

Next up, we took THE GREAT LIBERTY to Germany where we learned of the murder of a Swedish man. Jan Settfurs was allegedly killed by his young male lover Florian and his mother (with whom he had an incestuous relationship.) And that's just part of the lurid details. But this isn't a film based on prurient interest. It's the story of Jan's son, Klas who travels to Germany to rediscover his father and piece together the puzzle of his life. It becomes an interesting and challenging film, a reminder that behind every sensationalist headline there's a family member quietly and tragically trying to make sense of it all. Very, very interesting.

And then I ended my day at Docfest by spending some solitary confinement time in HERMAN'S HOUSE. Herman Wallace is a dominant presence and constant voice in the film, even though he's never seen on screen (oops, sorry for the spoiler.) Back in the 60's he was a sort of troubled kid who was sent to jail for his involvement in an attempted bank robbery (he tried to rob a bank with a BB gun.) While he was there, a guard was murdered, and Herman and another man were blamed. They were convicted although later new evidence came to light (fingerprints that didn't match either of them, questions about the truthfulness of other inmates' testimony, etc.) Nevertheless, Herman wasn't just locked up for life, he was sent to solitary confinement. He had been in solitary over 30 years when artist/activist Jackie Sumell. She realized she needed to make Herman think about the outside world--if she can't get him physically outside his cell, at least she can get his mind out. So she had him design--in extraordinary detail--his dream house. His designs are sometimes chilling (architects point out how everything is walled off and compartmentalized, like it was designed by someone with no concept of open space and flow) and sometimes hilarious (my favorite part is the master bathroom has a hot tub exactly one foot longer than his 6' x 8' cell.) Well, that design becomes an art exhibit and becomes the starting point for an effort to actually build Herman's House as a youth community center for at-risk youth in New Orleans (and maybe...just maybe for Herman to live in if his appeals are ever successful.) Well, I don't mean to give away spoilers but that part of the project is not yet successful. But you can go to the project's website to learn more, including how you can contribute.

Total Running Time: 269 minutes
My Total Minutes: 303,256
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