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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, May-June 2007

By Tom White

Dear Readers:

When you talk about what makes a fertile region for documentary making, or for nurturing and cultivating a documentary community, you think about the variables that contribute to its making: a sound funding apparatus, a supportive nexus of exhibitors and distributors, a solid base of educational opportunities and a community of organizations that keep the engine running smoothly.

The San Francisco Bay Area has long distinguished itself for its progressive fervor, stretching back to the 1950s, with the Beat Generation having taken its aesthetic westward, and continuing in the 1960s, when Haight-Asbury, Berkeley and Oakland formed the epicenter for counter-cultural revolution across the country.

It is with that spirit in mind that we look at the documentary community of the region. Highlighting this profile is the 50th edition of the San Francisco International Film Festival, which, in commemoration of this golden milestone, is premiering Gary Leva's Fog City Mavericks, a celebration of the history of the singular filmmaking tradition of the Bay Area. Margarita Landazuri traces the festival's tradition of documentary programming.

It is this maverick sensibility that has informed the work of Bay Area docmakers, and despite the many shifts in the Bay Area economy over the years, the community has found a way to continue to make a difference. In her overview piece, Lily Ng talks to a range of artists about what makes this region thrive despite its challenges. One vital piece of the equation here is the Ninth Street Independent Film Center, which houses some of the more dynamic nonprofit media arts organizations in the region. Felicity Wood profiles the center--both the whole and the sum of its parts. Education also plays an essential role, and opportunities abound. Mitchell Block looks at some of the documentary-specific offerings and spotlights the latest, at the California College of the Arts, headed by award-winning filmmaker Rob Epstein. Finally, California Newsreel has been distributing social-issue documentaries for four decades. Cathleen Rountree speaks with co-founder Larry Daressa about how Newsreel has maintained its progressive thrust all these years.

Since the late 1970s, the Berkeley-based Saul Zaentz Media Center has served as home to some of the most prominent documentary makers in the country. The late Marlon Riggs, Bill Jersey, Deborah Hoffman, Frances Reid, Steven Okasaki, Connie Field, Judy Montell, Rick Tejada-Flores, Vivian Kleinman, Stanley Nelson: These are just a few of the filmmakers who have plied their trade at some point in their careers at the center.

But earlier this year, the facility was sold to commercial developer Wareham Properties, which has raised rents to as much as triple the market rate, thus spelling potential eviction for the tenants. As we go to press, the ad hoc Berkeley Independent Film Group was in the process of appealing to the Berkeley Mayor and City Council, and a number of organizations in the area have sent letters of support. We will be monitoring developments in our biweekly e-zine and on, but for up-to-the-minute updates, check out


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White