Tuesday, July 28, 2009

NEWS: SFJFF shows "Rachel"

Booing and hissing between spastic applause like children at a carnival, the Castro Theatre turned into a peanut gallery. The festival's executive director Peter Stein more than once asked the audience to listen to one another respectfully, to which the overwhelming majority of attendees hurled back a deafening bedlam of approval, drowning out the director's voice.

As Rachel's mother, Cindy Corrie, put it during the Q & A, the battle raging in the theater had less to do with herself, her daughter or the film than with pre-existing differences of opinion within the Jewish community. Forget whether the film was any good. This audience had already made up its mind some time between 1948 and when the curtains opened.

Friday, July 10, 2009

NEWS: Vote for Pablo campaign reveals what Giants fans are made of

The final spot on the 2009 All-Star National team was a no-go for Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval.

But in the final stages of the vote, more fans went on the internet to have their say than ever before. The San Francisco baseball team's fans surprised even themselves when some voted hundreds of times (there was no limit), and others caste thousands of votes.

The lead switched hands between Shane Victorino and Sandoval a half-dozen times during the course of this week's vote, driving some fans to drink, one to vote so much his wife threw a shoe at him, and still others to harass their friends to caste more votes. Even Mayor Gavin Newsom plugged for Sandoval.

This video captures the stress, glory and failure of how it all went down.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

NEWS: China Town residents fight off eviction

Seventeen Chinese American families who won a pitched battle in June with their landlord, San Francisco City College, to remain in their apartment building was one of the greatest tenant success stories in San Francisco history - a no-bullshit instance where David beats Goliath. And yet all the tenants had to say about their triumph was (translated from Cantonese) "this is really convenient."

After shooting a couple hours of video footage at the grand opening at Columbus Street Cooperative, I figured I had a disaster on my hands. I'd captured a zillion soundbytes from the city's top hand shakers, who had turned out in droves to effuse about the historical moment, condemning SFCC with clenched fists in the air and applauding the tenants for bucking the system that wanted them out of the city - with a helping hand from the San Francisco Community Land Trust, which bought the building and reshaped it into a permanently-affordable resident-owned cooperative.

But when the tenants spoke, any emotion they harbored seemed to get lost in translation. I shared a somber moment with my co-shooter, Jamie Lejeune: "The only good stuff I'm getting is coming from the mouth of politicians. Arghh!," I said.

"Same here," he said.

I probed the building up several flights of stairs and entered the apartment of a disabled elderly woman sagging in her wheelchair, able to watch the ceremony only by peering down through her dining room window. Using the building manager as an interpreter, I asked questions to elicit a gut reaction.

"You speak only Chinese. From the sounds of it, you rarely travel outside Chinatown - where all your family and friends live. You can't afford another place in the city," I said. "What would relocating to somewhere else mean for you?"

She mumbled a few words - maybe only half of a really long word -- which the translator turned into an epic: against all odds, I get to hold onto my living situation. The outside world freaks me out. We fought long and hard for this. And we won.

Yeah right. If I had been interviewing the twinkly-eyed interpreter I would have had a banging story.

Ultimately, I did record some color: "We were scared," Mrs. Ru M. Peng, who with her husband and children faced eviction after occupying the same building for 18 years.

LeJeune, himself a member of the cooperative who had lived several years in east Asia, broke it down for me after the shoot, explaining the San Francisco touch-feelyness I've grown accustomed to here doesn't resonate in Chinese culture.

Short of the building burning down halfway through the ceremony, I would never unearth the hidden emotions I knew lay just beneath the surface.

Maybe I'm editorializing a tad here, but I'll argue to the grave I'm not, when I say: Take all this to mean when Mrs. Peng says she's scared, the matron really means she's never been more terrified in her life.

(If the video is down, click on this link)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

News: Will San Francisco's Bison Herd Survive The Recession?

San Francisco's aging bison herd is threatened with extinction. Only five remain after one of the pack was euthanized in April due to disease and old age.

The bison recently returned to a new, $1.2 million dollar improved paddock in Golden Gate Park, but with a shortfall in the city budget that could mean cuts for public safety or programs that serve the poor, the money it would take to repopulate the shrinking herd is more than a little daunting.

Appeal videographer Cassidy Friedman went out to talk to those closest to the historic herd, got a look at the old ladies themselves, but ended up with more questions than answers. Maybe we shouldn't be asking "will they survive the recession?" but "should they?" -- Eve Batey(SF Appeal)

NEWS: Owe The City Money? Working It Off May Be Harder Than You Think

In some counties, citizens who can't pay off the debts they owe their city end up in county jail. San Francisco's Superior Court, however, has one of the country's most compassionate payment plan programs for debtors who can't immediately pay off their debts to the city. So there's a lot to be proud of.

But while the collections staff will work with you to form a payment plan, there's one form of payment that's come under some fire: the city's community service programs.

Impractically priced, with attached fees and pay rates of $6/hr, these city-funded programs that are supposed to enable the poorest among us to work off their debt by doing community service are doing little good for the people who really need them. In these hard economic times, the poor cannot afford to work double time for half the pay.

And few of the financially hardship-afflicted sign up, according to an administrator at San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which gets free labor through the city-funded (though how much it costs is unclear: Project 20, which runs work programs for the city, did not respond to this correspondent's phone call) work program.

The work programs may, however, owe their continued existence to a different group of people, ticketed drivers and fined defendants who merely wish to give something back to the city.

I recently asked to meet a Project 20 volunteer and was introduced to Kevin Drew, who sounded ecstatic about the program. Drew, who lives in Marin County, says he can afford to pay off his parking tickets but prefers to spend his weekends making the city a better place to live. It doesn't bother him that he's getting paid $6/hr because he's too wrapped up in the good services he's providing with the good folks at the Bicycle Coalition.

"It's also good for folks who get too many tickets who don't have the money to give a little bit to the general kind of social well being of the city," Drew said. "I got a job. I could really afford it. I just choose not to."