Mid-Market focus of film
by Matthew S. Bajko
Having met line dancing at a weekly gay country western party, friends Robert Cortlandt and Dan Goldes have now partnered up to film the transformation taking place along San Francisco's Mid-Market corridor.
Since 2011 they have been documenting the changes along the once gruff and gritty thoroughfare into a new hub for arts groups, tech companies, and high-end housing. Their cameras are also capturing the stories of artists, low-income seniors, and residents of single-room-occupancy hotels who have long made the neighborhood their home.
They describe their documentary 5 Blocks as "set in the gritty Central Market Street area." Their goal with the film is to spend five years following "a determined, but shaky, coalition as it works to redeem the neighborhood without casting aside the poor and marginalized. With a technology boom quickly gentrifying the street, this may be their last chance."
"We spent six months researching whether to do the film," said Cortlandt, 54, a photo editor and filmmaker who moved to the city in 1982 and lives in the Bayview, another fast gentrifying San Francisco neighborhood.
Past efforts by city leaders to revitalize or redevelop neighborhoods have a "checkered past," noted Goldes, pointing to the demolition of the Fillmore, a once thriving African American community whose jazz clubs rivaled those in Harlem, and that of Yerba Buena, whose SROs were torn up to build a convention center and museum district.
The latest efforts along the five blocks of Market Street between Fifth and 10th streets, which include a controversial tax break for companies that relocate into the area, are once again being touted by City Hall as a catalyst for transformative changes.
"It is a lofty goal so it is an interesting thing to follow," said Goldes, 52, who also moved to San Francisco in 1982 and lives in Glen Park.
During their initial conversations about their film idea, the filmmakers heard from many backers of the Mid-Market plans that they had learned from the mistakes of past revitalization efforts and vowed not to repeat them.
"People we talked to in the city didn t want to see that happen again," said Goldes, who had been working for the city's tourism bureau but left to focus on consulting work and making films.
The filmmakers decided to devote six years to document the changes under way and how it impacts the current residents in the Central Market corridor. Their production company is called Urbanstreet Films and they are working with cinematographer Erin Palmquist, who worked on the 2008 documentary Out on the Dance Floor about the gay country western dance events held by Sundance Saloon, which Goldes and Cortlandt both frequent.
They have attended countless Mid-Market community meetings and events in order to build up relationships and trust with current residents and neighborhood activists. They also landed upon an idea of asking people to map out what changes they would like to see occur along that segment of Market Street.
The mapping sessions not only offer the filmmakers a way to introduce themselves to the neighborhood but may end up in the completed documentary.
"We have developed trust in the community," said Cortlandt in a recent interview at the gourmet sausage eatery Show Dogs Emporium, one of the first new restaurants to take a chance on mid-Market Street when it opened across from the Golden Gate Theater in 2009. "Because we are documentary filmmakers we don't have an agenda other than to follow the story. It is amazing what people will tell us on camera."
Added Goldes, "There are a million stories here. We can't tell them all but we don't want them to be forgotten."
They are just finishing year three of filming and have two more to go before spending a final year on post-production work with the goal of premiering the documentary in 2016.
"We have talked to a lot of people who live and work in the neighborhood," said Goldes.
"We've talked to residents, churchgoers, nonprofit folks," added Cortlandt.
Their project dovetails with the larger conversation taking place over the latest technology boom, soaring housing prices, and increasing evictions of long-time tenants throughout San Francisco.
"It brings potential and problems. It brings up interesting questions about who makes decisions about the neighborhood and how is the old life and new life respected," said Goldes. "How does a city deal with that balance? We think there is the potential for people to learn from this experience."
Cortlandt added that the film will also explore "how does different populations co-exist and do artists stay or get priced out? We have a lot of a questions and hope the next three years will answer them."
The film has already tapped into the current zeitgeist of concerns over the future of the city and who will call it home.
"The interest has been pretty phenomenal," said Goldes.
The filmmakers recently held a fundraiser at the gay Castro bar Lookout that was "jam packed," said Cortlandt. They also launched a successful crowdfunding campaign last year on Indiegogo and have raised more than $40,000 so far in public donations.
"As an independent production we shoot when there are interesting things going on and when funding is available," said Goldes.
The San Francisco Film Society agreed to be a fiscal sponsor of the film and is collecting donations for it online. A two-and-a-half minute teaser of the film can be seen on the society's website at http://www.sffs.org/donate/donate-now.aspx?pid=1152.
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