Friday, May 29, 2009

Robert Kenner, Director of Food Inc.: behind the scenes of his new film

Food Inc., the much anticipated documentary about the food industry is coming to San Francisco theaters June 12 and promises to change the minds of food consumers about how the industry actually works.

Kevin Robinson, of Medium Rare, interviews Director/Producer Robert Kenner about his controversial film (co-produced by Eric Schlosser, author Fast Food Nation) and what changes he hopes to see in the food industry.

Robinson also digs into why the voices of the opposition are conspicuously absent from the documentary, while the viewer gets plenty of Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser fighting the status quo.

WHERE? Food, Inc. - Embarcadero Center Cinema
WHEN? Starts Friday, June 12. Eric Schlosser, producer and author of Fast Food Nation In Person Sat, June 13 at 4:50 & 7:30pm!
WHAT DO THE CRITICS SAY? - "Filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation's food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that's been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government's regulatory agencies, the USDA and FDA."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bronstein cites car sleeper video as example of journalism adapting

In his blog Bronstein at Large earlier this month, San Francisco Chronicle editor-at-large Phil Bronstein noted this video on the city's homeless as an example of how journalism is adapting. The blog, which Bronstein wrote in response to Sen. John Kerry saying newspapers are endangered, was then re-posted on Huffington Post.

"While it's a piece about homelessness, specifically what might be a growing trend of people living in their cars South of Market, what's most interesting to me is the media start-up circuitry that got it done," Bronstein wrote.

"The video shooter, Cassidy Friedman, is working through something called SanFranciscoIAM, part of a growing operation that's creating -- and even paying for, in some cases -- video journalism via their website assignment desk. You can pitch a story to them or try to snag one that's already on their boards. Skill and the popularity of your video both matter and determine how well you do."

Lindsay Schauer searches for "the perfect job"

Lindsay Schauer, an excellent Bay Area magazine journalist, recently decided to take a stab at what the San Francisco Chronicle called "the dream job." Applying for the gig, a wine blogging position with Murphy-Goode Winery in Sonoma County, Schauer knew she had a strong resume to rest on.

But the winery asked Schauer, along with her stiff competition, to condense their pitches into a one-minute sound byte.

So, here's the video we came up with...

For more information about the job, check out Winery creates buzz with dream job offer, by Julian Guthrie, Chronicle Staff Writer at"

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Changing Face of Bay Area Fire Art

Mark Pauline's Survival Research Labs fought for years with the San Francisco Fire Department to keep its place as a fringe artistic institution in the city.

Last fall, after producing 50 explosive shows over the course of nearly three decades, the Godfather of industrial fire art lost that fight and moved to Petaluma -- a city Pauline says won't crack down on him for doing his trade, which consists of building everything from jet-powered rockets to flame tornadoes and stabbing machines, then featuring them at shows across the globe.

Most local industrial fire artists draw the distinction between the relatively benign work they do and what SRL, the periodically law-crossing, original industrial fire art organization has done under the leadership of its swashbuckling director since 1978.

And while industrial fire art is exploding in San Francisco, there may no longer be a place here for SRL, which seems alienated from the city at nearly every level.

SRL's south Mission neighborhood has changed, with lofts replacing industrial spaces and Ferraris replacing work trucks on the street out front. The fire department was threatening a lawsuit against Pauline for driving his forklift with no permit, unless he left the city, he said (Although Pauline says he has documents proving this, the SFFD could not corroborate the claim). And since his rusty soot-covered work den in the Mission, a nook that used to go largely unnoticed by firefighters, is now considered hot real estate, the landlord doubled his rent ... twice.

All these recent developments were enough to bring Pauline to a fast boil.

San Francisco is "not a place for marginal characters anymore," Pauline said. "Basically, in the city of San Francisco, you can't do what I do anymore. The city has changed and the makeup of the city reflects that and the kind of things that can be allowed to happen in the city reflects that."

Although Pauline said the fire department has had it out for him since the mid-90s, the department claims it's played neutral all along. Few top-ranking veterans at the department even recognize his or his company's name.

"They don't care who you are, if you are coming in with some big production company, saying this is how they let us do it somewhere else, they don't care," spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said. "You are going to do it by the books.

"In my personal opinion... his reaction to everything, it's kind of the artistic mentality: everybody's against me. Things change and we have to fight or change with it and he's fought it and he's kind of lost the battle," she added.

The Chronicle's Editor-At-Large Phil Bronstein described Pauline as "one of the most explosively creative people you'll ever meet." He called SRL leaving "a tragedy," and a clear sign that art is leaking out through the city's borders.

Pauline could have made do with less. He could have moved his lab into a less expensive space. He also could have applied for grants, which he refuses to do because he feels that being beholden to another institution could undermine his creative autonomy.

"I think it's quite possible that SRL could continue doing what it's been doing in San Francisco," said Ian Baker, a fire artist for Interpretive Arson in Oakland, who last year considered moving his outfit into the SF. "But you don't want to spend that money on rent. You want to spend the money on hydraulic actuators."

At the heart of Pauline's art is a renegade attitude. Decades ago, he defaced billboards with non-political artistic messages, Bronstein recalled. He's perhaps best known in the city for a Nov. 1995 show tabbed Crime Wave, which he held near the base of the Bay Bridge without seeking permits. The show represented Pauline's retaliation against the fire department for attempts by the department to unjustly restrict future shows in San Francisco, he claimed.

"We did every possible violation we could think of... to make the fire department mad," he said.

No one was injured but Pauline was charged and convicted with intent to injure the public with explosives and intent to injure the public with arson, but he was spared from jail time.

In contrast to Pauline, the new wave of fire artists go out of their way to follow the law and to cultivate positive rapports with the fire department. The Flaming Lotus Girls, for example, test explosive devices in the desert and always get a permit for public exhibitions in Oakland and the city, said a leading member, Caroline "Mills" Miller.

Two years ago, when Ian Baker, of Interpretive Arson, started burning propane as a performance tool at the annual street-level Burning Man Decompression party on Mariposa Street, the fire marshal told him to shut it off - even though Baker had obtained a permit, he said.

Baker put up no protest. Instead, he wants to teach a class to fire fighters on how to enforce fire code, and to explain how his machines work. And he sees his relationship with the fire department improving.

"I feel like the San Francisco fire marshal's office is really coming around in this regard," he said.

Miller, who operates at the Box Shop in Bayview/Hunter's Point, said she also hopes to build stronger ties to law enforcement and the fire department.

"To be honest, we don't really have that much communication with the city," she said. "It's probably to the detriment of both groups."

Times-News announces River of Stone award

River of Stone' series wins state tourism award

"The River of Stone," a Times-News multimedia exploration of the Snake River Canyon, has been honored as the Governor's Take Pride in Idaho media award winner for 2009.

The award, given annually by the Idaho Department of Commerce, recognizes "the Idaho newspaper, magazine, radio or television station that best promotes Idaho tourism, or ... best communicates Idaho's lifestyle, heritage, regional or statewide events and attractions."

The River of Stone chronicles the journey of Times-News staffers through the Snake River Canyon from Milner Dam to Upper Salmon Falls Dam, while exploring the canyon's history, recreation potential, environmental concerns, wildlife, public access and wild land preservation along the way. It appeared in the newspaper last October, with an enhanced multimedia version remaining available at the newspaper's Web site,

Times-News Editor James G. Wright and the series' principal author, Cassidy Friedman, accepted the award at the Idaho Conference on Recreation and Tourism held at the Sun Valley Inn Thursday.

(Continue reading the article at the Times-News)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Newly Homeless Turn to Sleeping in Their Cars on Townsend

Word was that a Hooverville of people living in their cars had taken hold on Townsend Street. People, including members of the lower-middle class who’ve hit hard times, had begun filling in empty parking spots. Not to mention, throwing buckets of septic waste onto the tracks, and littering everywhere.

At 6:30 p.m. on a recent Thursday I had spent a full hour milling about on the block, but found only signs of people living in a half-dozen vehicles – deflated tires, windows boarded up with cardboard, and a few stacks of garbage. No signs of life.

After a knocking a few times on the passenger door of an old RV, a groggy face emerged from behind curtains on the upper-deck of the camper – ticked off as hell.

“It’s the middle of the night,” the guy mumbled, before rolling back under his covers. “Come back at a reasonable hour.”

After paying three follow-up visits at various times of day, I have yet to discover when that “reasonable hour” is – or, for that matter, get that man’s story directly from him (He’s only been described to me by his neighbors). The usual rules don’t play when you’ve lost your house, the life you once knew and yet you still manage to work five days a week, his neighbors explained.

(Continue reading the story below the video...)

Robin, a recovered speed addict who moved into her RV on Townsend before the economy slumped, said this year ranks of new homeless started following her lead. From her camper window, she watches a man – her newest neighbor -- wake up each morning in a reclined seat of his maroon sedan, don business attire and, presumably, head to work.

She tells a similar story of another man who now lives in his white van, parked several spots closer to the train terminal. No kids, just single men doing what they can to stay out of shelters.

Thea Chroman, who recently produced a radio story on homelessness in San Francisco for, said she could find no city data documenting how many more people this year are living in their vehicles than previous years. But not all homeless are showing up in shelters or simply living on the streets, and she’s heard many stories of people taking to their cars.

Calling herself the mayor of Townsend, Robin’s title somehow fits. She cleans up refuse along her patch of sidewalk, eschews any consumption of drugs, and forms coalitions of homeless to route out thieves (her camper was once robbed and she vows it won’t happen again).

She’s proud, too, for the first time since she came off the amphetamines. Seeing herself as luckier than the rest, she’s converted her kitchenette into a soup kitchen.

“It’s going to get a lot worse,” she told me. “And I guess it’s because of the economy.”