Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema 2006

Susan Gerhard September 1, 2006

Who needs Dolby sound-enhanced stadium seating with cup holders in a temperature-controlled environment when you can watch a movie on the cold, hard cement with 500 of your best friends? Even in San Francisco, most of the single-screen theaters have made the transition to becoming flea markets, rock-climbing establishments, and YMCAs by now. In the small city-state of Bernal Heights, the San Francisco neighborhood where I live, there are no theaters, but there are hills and playgrounds and fields that can be transformed with a little imagination. Beginning Saturday, Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema‘s organizers Leslie Lombre and Anne Batmale are braving hell and high winds to give local filmmakers a chance to entertain audiences in a four-part outdoor series of free screenings featuring artists living in the ‘hood whose “local filmmaker” shelf at the corner videostore has, at times, included Terry Zwigoff and Sarah Jacobson. These four shows include works by such marquee talents as Jeff Fino/Wild Brain (“Hubert’s Brain,” “Dog Cartoon”), Jay Rosenblatt (“I Used to be a Filmmaker”), Michael Franti (“I Know I Am Not Alone”), and Emiko Omori (“Ripe for Change”), among many others. The first installment (films by Sam Green, Rosenblatt, Omori, Christa Conforti, Sharon Wood, Pat Ferrero, Georgina Corzine, and Michael Franti) commences at 7 p.m. on the soil of Bernal Park (up the hill@ Folsom), and the series continues in the area’s outdoor spaces.

SF360 checked in with some of the filmmakers in the series to find out if they film where they live — and why.

1. Audrey Ray Daniel
Producer, “Kurt Stoeckel, Artist”

“Doing documentary work,” Daniel says, “I follow my subjects and that leads me all around town.” She’s filmed in North Beach, Bernal Heights, the Ferry Building, the Palace of the Legion of Honor. She lives in Bernal Heights, where, she says, her favorite spot to videotape is Cortland Street at night, with her friend Kurt.

Favorite SF visual? The Palace of the Legion of Honor, then Chinatown.

2. Shani Heckman
Director, “Wrong Bathroom”

Heckman shoots mostly in the Mission, Potrero, or Downtown neighborhoods, because, she writes, “I like the long shadows San Francisco has to offer — and these neighborhoods guarantee sunshine for that goal.” I also don’t need to travel far from home; she lives in the Outer Mission/Lower Bernal Heights/Noe Valley, cusp, (“each neighborhood has included me in its registry due to my 28th and San Jose/Guerrero location,” which leads her to note: “I love San Francisco’s inclusion, for sure!)

Favorite SF visual? “In Dolores Park, the view of the City is breathtaking and easy to capture, plus you can usually count on a few clouds. I also really liked shooting a lot at City College SF, where I attended school during Wrong Bathroom’s production, mostly for the plethora of single-gender restroom options on the campus!”

3. Catherine Enny
Producer, “I Know I’m Not Alone”

Hayes Valley resident Catherine Enny — producer of Michael Franti’s music video/war story, which travels through Iraq, Palestine, and Israel — says she hasn’t filmed in San Francisco.

But her favorite visual, were she to: “The Sidewalk Stencil Art and the people.”

4. Jenni Olson
Co-producer, “Sing Along San Francisco”

“At least 50 percent of my film ‘The Joy of Life’ was shot in The Mission/Bernal Heights/Potrero Hill neighborhoods,” writes Jenni Olson, who co-produced “Sing Along San Francisco” with Scott Noble (directed by Georgina Corzine). “The primary reason for that (next to the fact that I spend the most time in these areas) is that there’s better light more of the time! My DP, Sophie Constantinou, and I would often drive to the other side of town on an early morning shoot and find it so foggy we would just turn right around and find something back here to shoot. Actually, I recently posted my shot list on my website at so you can see a list of all 113 shots in the film (including shots of such gone but not forgotten landmarks as Anna’s Danish Cookies at 18th & Guererro, the Potrero Hill Water Tower and Art’s Trading Company on 7th Street).”

Olson is a very proud resident of St. Mary’s Park. “Which is apparently the most obscure neighborhood in the city,” she writes. “Even most longtime San Franciscans don’t know where it is. (It’s right next to Bernal Heights). Little known facts: the streets of St. Mary’s Park are laid out in the shape of a bell (as in, the Bells of St. Mary’s), and we are the only neighborhood in the City to have an official neighborhood flag — which gets hoisted every weekend on the flagpole on College Avenue!”

Her favorite SF visual? “Right about 6:30 pm the view out my front window is exquisite. The sun starts going down behind my house — so that low, warm, golden light is hitting the houses across the street. There’s nothing more poignant than the early evening light at this time of year and all the memories it evokes.”

5. Karim Scarlata
Producer, “LarryLandia”

Scarlata says he lives in “the late ’80s to early ’90s” section of San Francisco. He shot his movie “in the Mission, Bernal Heights, and one brooding scene in Chinatown. Having grown up here, all the movies in my head take part here. Actually a big reason for why we shot where we shot was because it was available and close to where actors could meet. This was a no-budget production.”

Chinatown is his favorite SF visual. “In the basements, where mahjong pieces get slapped down.”

6. Keary Kensinger
Director, “Bolerium”

Keary Kensinger, who’s lived in Bernal Heights for 36 years, says he never expected to be a “storytelling old-timer,” but now is in a film he made with his son. They filmed the bookstore documentary “Bolerium” in Bernal Heights and the Mission. He writes, “The Mission is the Greenwich Village of this moment and is being squeezed from all sides. In the near future we will know what is being lost in the present.”

“Few people in the Bay Area, [or even] Mission and Bernal Heights know about Bolerium Books,” he writes. “They are the largest used bookstore in America specializing in the history of the 20th centuries many social movements, left, labor and radical collections. They’re not for the Borders Books crowd and prefer the general public doesn’t know about them. The interesting workers and owners have a terrific sense of humor. They are known throughout the world by the major universities, libraries, and collectors.”

His favorite San Francisco visual? “We look at the evolving and fading culture of this part of town. Nate especially likes shooting the archeology of the future: dead tech and industial skeletons littering the landscape both here and around his base in Brooklyn. Nate was born at home on Bennington St. a block from the library, which makes him the most native of anyone in the festival.”

7. Nathan Kensinger
Producer, “Bolerium”

Nathan Kensinger, the other half of “Bolerium’s” filmmaking team, has not only filmed in the Mission for this film, but also “inside many of San Francisco’s newspapers, including
the Chronicle, Examiner and Bay Guardian, for a documentary about the takeover of the San Francisco Chronicle.” He writes, “For that film, I interviewed editors and reporters at all three newspapers, filmed in newsrooms and at printing plants and rode with delivery van drivers all over the city.”

His favorite look in SF? “I’m photographing the industrial decay of the southern waterfront of San Francisco, particularly around the Hunter’s Point Navy Yard. My favorite of these photographs can be seen here.

8. Stephen Berke
Producer, “Lemons”

Berke lives in the outer Richmond and writes, “I haven’t filmed any personal projects in San Francisco yet. We’re planning to shoot part of our next film at the Orpheum Theater because it’s a beautiful older building. I also want to film at the Filbert Steps in North Beach one of these days.”

His favorite place to film? “My favorite SF visual for the moment would probably have to be the Hobart building downtown. Maybe it’s a bit cliché, but I really like old San Francisco design (the Cliff House or Dago Mary’s before their respective remodels) and having the contrast of more modern buildings surrounding really creates a wonderful image.”

9. Jed Riffe
Series and New Media Producer, Beyond the Dream, LLC

Riffe, who co-produced Emiko Omori’s “Ripe for Change,” writes that Omori filmed interviews with international food policy expert Raj Patel, Food First, at a friend’s private home in Bernal Heights, and did an interview with Indian Nuclear Physicist, seed saver and ant-GMO activist Vandana Shiva at the Huntington Hotel where she was staying. She filmed protests and interviews against globalization and the production, release, and “ownership” of genetically modified organisms at the 2004 International Bio Conference in the Moscone Center.

Speaking for himself, Riffe writes his favorite SF visual is “the city from the top of Mount Tamalpais, as seen from above the fog.”

10. Jay Rosenblatt
Producer, “I Used to Be a Filmmaker

Rosenblatt lives in the Castro/Noe Valley, which is where he films. “There are some good hills and I needed a steep one.”

His SF visual right now? “I know it is cliché, but
I love the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point(the ‘Vertigo’ shot).