Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hotel City (2003)

WHO: Local filmmaker Phoebe Tooke made this short documentary.

WHAT: Though this film is ten years old already, it's as topical as ever, as it gives voice to folks on the front lines of the struggle to prevent San Francisco's perpetual housing crisis from steamrolling its citizens. Constructed of lucid voice-over and alternatingly clear and beautifully impressionistic images, the film is a compassionate and effective look at some of the Tenderloin's Single-Room-Occupancy or SRO hotels, described by one commentator as "the housing of last resort. It's the first step out of homelessness and the last step to homelessness." We briefly get to know four residents of small, one-room dwellings in which a kitchenette might be an unattainable luxury and sharing a bathroom with dozens of neighbors is the norm. Tooke interviews them in their own spaces, crowded as they are with all the necessities and heirlooms that you or I might find ample room for in a house or a spacious apartment. For a sixteen-minute film there is a lot to hear about the daily struggles of semi-communal life on the economic margins, and of efforts to bring SRO issues to City Hall when landlord demands become unreasonable. It's as good a film as I've seen on this subject of particular interest to me (I have friends who do live or have lived in SRO quarters.)

WHERE/WHEN: On a program playing noon today only at the Roxie.

WHY: Hotel City screens on a full program of works by alumni of one of San Francisco's top institutional training grounds for new filmmakers: the San Francisco State University film department. Ten short films and videos have been selected from among the countless made by students and alumni since the department's 1960s origins. There is a focus on films made during the past ten years, but the selections include Irina Leimbacher's 1991 Mothertongue and go back as far as to the 1967 video/film hybrid OffOn by Scott Bartlett and Tom DeWitt, an astonishing work that has been canonized by (among other markers) its inclusion on the Library of Congress's National Film Registry in 2004. 

Most of what I know about the history of the SFSU film department comes from a detailed chapter in the Radical Light book which I consider a must-own for anyone interested in the roots of San Francisco's independent filmmaking. The chapter includes a partial list of SFSU Film Dept. alumni worth plucking some notable names from: Craig Baldwin, Barbara Hammer, Steven Okazaki, Emiko Omori, Ben Van Meter, Jay Rosenblatt, Lynne Sachs, Greta Snider, Michael Wallin, Wayne Wang... it's clear there's enough to create a fantastic full festival of its own, but today's program with its mix of established and relatively unknown filmmaker names is certainly a welcome way to kick off the last day of the San Francisco Film Society's Cinema By The Bay series.

HOW: According to the Film Society, Hotel City will screen via 16mm.

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