Filmmaker Leo Herrera Imagines an Alternate World Without AIDSLGBT history is full of brilliance and beauty, and shadows too, the darkest being the AIDS epidemic, which claimed over 18,500 San Franciscans between the 1980s and 2000. What if AIDS never happened? What if queer heroes had lived? Who would we be?
Leo Herrera, a Mexican/ American activist and filmmaker, in collaboration with queer artists and the GLBT Historical Museum, imagines that parallel universe with The Fathers Project, a “sci-fi documentary” that he likens to a mix of Cruising, Black Mirror, and Beyoncé’s Lemonade. If that description doesn’t get your pulse racing, see a doctor.
Herrera’s interest in LGBT history started at a young age. After his family left Ascensión, Mexico for Phoenix, Arizona, he quickly found that his new home wasn’t an easy place to be a gay immigrant. Herrera found solace in gay bookstores, where he tore through queer biographies and became enamored with the 1970s Gay Liberation movement. This passion exploded when he and his gay brother moved to San Francisco’s Mission district and found their own tribe of brown people, queers, drag queens, and others.
“We were just like, ‘I can’t believe we get to live this life!’ We knew how much sacrifice our family made to come over here, so me and my brother were going to enjoy the sh*t out of it and work really hard, and that’s where all the film stuff happened.”
Herrera’s latest piece imagines lost heroes like Robert Mapplethorpe and Keith Haring as they would be today (a process that Herrera found therapeutic and akin to talking to ghosts), and quilts together glimpses of a queer utopia populated by real people at Pride in San Francisco, and in Provincetown and Fire Island in the summer.
Herrera hopes that the final product serves as an antidote to fear. “The world we live in was shaped by [AIDS], but we’re still okay. We’re going to be good. Being able to document this incredible community has been just beautiful. I love it so much. [It’s what] makes me get up. I love it. I love it.”
Young Oakland Superheroes Fight for Their MuralWhen the third and fourth graders of Oakland’s Hoover Elementary School started creating superheroes to creatively address the problems in their community, they had no idea they would have to become their own heroes -- and fight a battle against Caltrans.
The Oakland Super Heroes Project, a classroom curriculum and mural series led by Attitudinal Healing Connection, worked with Hoover students to invent themselves as superheroes. Fantastic Girl has water powers to stop floods and fires and to clean community ; Lava Girl and Lava Boy melt guns with their lava vision; Golden Boy has an electric force field to fight crime; and D-Bow Jalapeño uses magical cheese to transform the community.
Even though the Hoover students’ design would be the project's fourth superheroes mural on a wall under an Oakland freeway overpass, Caltrans suddenly required the artists to sign over the copyright, halting progress on the mural.
Unwilling to back down, the project curriculum expanded to include poster-making, letter writing, and protest chants. What would normally take about a year -- from concepts to designs to completion -- became a two-and-a-half year crash course in taking on the California Department of Transportation.
“I learned I can do anything I put my mind to,” says student artist Daijon Kelly. "Nobody can stop me."
Watch the now fifth and sixth graders of Hoover Elementary over the course of their unexpected journey to bring art and beauty into their community.
Behind the Lens: Filmmaker Peter Nicks Navigates Opposing Worlds in "The Force"Documentary filmmaker Peter Nicks doesn’t hold any illusions that his work will save the world. For him, filmmaking is just one element of culture that slowly propels humanity forward, together.
So when Nicks directed "The Force" — the story of two turbulent years in the Oakland Police Department, filmed while embedded in its ranks — he did so with a stridently objective eye. The film premiered in 2017 at Sundance, where Nicks was awarded the Directing Prize, and broadcasts nationally this week on PBS' Independent Lens.
The documentary is the second in a trilogy of films examining the city of Oakland through its public institutions, produced by Nick’s nonprofit Open’hood and inspired in part by the HBO series "The Wire." (Nicks’ critically acclaimed "The Waiting Room," told from inside Oakland’s Highland Hospital, was the first in the trilogy; he plans to embed in the city’s schools for the third.)
As filmmakers, Nicks and his team had unprecedented access to the OPD during filming, which began in 2014 as the Black Lives Matter movement emerged. “The department was trying to confront this problem of implicit bias,” Nicks says, “and at the same time trying to keep a city safe.”
“One of the things I noticed right away was the feeling of being in a police car,” Nicks says. People automatically look at the police with antagonism and mistrust, he noted, and the officers internalized that. But just as easily understood, Nicks says, is the perspective of community members who feel profiled and harassed by the police.
Bridging rather than widening that divide is one Nicks' primary goals. “As a filmmaker I want to try to bring people into another point of view,” he says. His own personal story, including encounters with the criminal justice system, he says, helped him approach complex matters with sensitivity and authenticity.
Watch as Nicks and his team capture Black Lives Matter protests, OPD trainees, community vigils, police missteps, all the way up to the documentary's explosive coda of a teenage sex scandal involving over a dozen members of the department, in our latest "Behind the Lens" spotlight on local filmmakers.
A Ballet About HomelessnessCan a ballet make an audience more empathetic? San Francisco-based choreographer Marika Brussel hopes her new piece, "From Shadows," will do just that.
Brussel’s ballet tells the story of a family ripped apart by addiction -- and of a young girl searching for her father in the faces of those who live on the streets. For Brussel the dance carries both local significance -- she regularly passes homeless encampments on her way to and from the ODC dance studios -- and personal weight. She, too, loved someone who lost several years of their life to homelessness.
“It’s much easier just to close down, and to not look at other people’s pain,” Brussel says. “I don’t want to not have those feelings, so I made this dance.” Watch dancers transform the pain of invisibility and neglect into a beautiful dance in "From Shadows."
Director, Cinematographer, Editor: Peter Ruocco
A Gravity-Defying Dance For Girls EverywhereFlyaway Productions uses aerial dance to explore the credibility of women’s voices in the public realm.
Choreographer Jo Kreiter created the aerial dance "The Right To Be Believed" long before #MeToo, and before the recent outpouring of stories from women who have endured harassment and sexualt assault.
Now Kreiter’s vision -- of women taking over a whole Oakland, CA-city block to perform a dance about the credibility of women’s voices -- takes on new poignancy as Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, and too many other powerful men attempt to deflect allegations by discrediting their accusers.
“We need to start believing women, believing that our experiences have value,” says Krieter. “Belittled, pushed aside and assaulted, all these things that every women goes through, we’ve had enough of that.”
Watch dancers Bianca Cabrera, Sonsherée Giles, MaryStarr Hope, Yayoi Kambara, Megan Lowe, and Sonya Smith in a moving display of women’s vulnerability and strength, with music by FR333, including the song “Emily Doe,” inspired by the woman who survived a brutal sexual assault in 2015 by Stanford freshman Brock Turner.
Director, Editor: Claudia Escobar
Cinematography: Claudia Escobar and Elie Khadra
Executive Producer: David Markus