The Grove is beginning a new project business planning with the San Francisco Film Society. They plan to take over the historic film theater located on the Main Post, creating a home for this vibrant organization, recently expanded as it takes over the programs of the Film Arts Foundation. As a result we attended the open of the San Francisco International Film Festival at the Castro Theater. It proved a doorway into a truly indigenous, San Franciscan experience.
The opening featured La Mission, a film by Peter Bratt about the gritty, colorful Mission District in San Francisco. His brother Benjamin stars in a story of pride, redemption, violence, and the power of community.
Peter and Benjamin grew up in the Mission. Their intent was to portray universal themes through as authentic a context as they could create. And the context is vibrant—graphically mirrored by close-ups of the Mission murals threading through the opening credits. (This one, called Maestrapeace, is a on the Women's Building in the Mission).
The Bratt’s embrace of local culture extended to this event. Graham Leggat, Executive Director of SFFS opened by thanking the auditorium full of sponsors and friends invited to the opening. It was a who’s who of Bay Area business and the arts. As he introduced the Bratt’s they extended the thanks to the specific Mission community that helped them with the film, and then said “I’d like to invite an elder from our community to come and say a prayer before we start.”
Out came a short, gray-haired woman leaning on a cane. But any sense of incapacity disappeared as her voice filled the auditorium with expressions of gratitude and invitation. Down the two aisles appeared pairs of people dressed in what I assumed were ceremonial Mayan headdresses, huge fans of pheasant tails over golden costumes, smudge, and drums. They slowly came to the front, and as prayers to the four directions linked us out into the city and the earth itself, we all passed through a time portal. And when La Mission ended with this same troupe dancing for the memorial of a young Latino delinquent, the veil between movie and life dissolved.
We all celebrated San Francisco this evening, where no single culture or style has a majority status. For sure there are elites, divisions and fragmentation but the majority of us are making do in an expensive city, especially in the arts, and have developed an appetite for texture and surprise. Here are ties next to pimp hats, stubble on black, tee shirts and tuxedos, leather, skin, layers and sweats all reflecting a culture of wide open acceptance of diversity. This WAS the film and the audience, blurred. As the Latino hero of La Mission bumps up against his African American neighbor, director of a battered woman’s shelter, we get a first-hand view of the values of patriarchy vs egalitarianism, of violence and pride vs acceptance and nurturance. Every nuance got a laugh or groan from us in the audience, for this was our world being portrayed, the world of struggle and new understandings, of relationships across boundaries, of dilemmas and pain, and the joy that springs from opening up to real feelings and love.
As we left the theater after a question and answer session that felt like a town meeting of the film arts, we moved out into Castro Street. Shiny low-rider cars featured in the film parked out front. Beaming movie buffs snapped pictures. A group called Hommies, who work with youth in the Mission, sold black tee-shirts with La Mission across the front. Most of the attendees headed by bus and car over to the heart of The Mission and Bruno’s for a big party celebrating the opening of the festival. The city looked more luminous. I could imagine the dramas that surely lay behind every facade.
This year of the 150 films being screened, 30 will be from the SF Bay Area. “We used to be like a florist, bringing the best international flowers to put in the vase of the Bay Area. Now we are more like a nursery, bringing you the new voices from our own community as well,” said Graham at the opening.
In my own heart a flowering of hope and connection filled my night. Donna Lafayette, The Grove’s Workshop Coordinator came with me to the opening, as did Kara Nichols, with whom I will be working on the business plan. Both are long time members of the film society. What a richness to be connected to the place where you live.
I sense that San Francisco is a little microcosm of the world. If only we feel our connection across the larger boundaries of the Earth as we did this night across our local ones.