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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, September 05, 2003

The little city that could The little city that could (September 05, 2003)

East Palo Alto 20th Anniversary Film Festival to focus on 10 themes

by Jeanne Aufmuth

East Palo Alto stands sentry at the gates of our fair city, stubborn and proud. It is a city of extremes, encompassing a lush and vibrant cultural diversity, a continuous struggle with malicious street crime and substantial dreams of coffer-filling revenues, by way of IKEA and University Circle.

The little city that could stands a mere 2.5 square miles, with 29,500 residents calling it home. EPA's most profound struggle has long been its desire for individuality, to stand on its own. That dream was realized in 1983, when the unincorporated bustling metropolis was officially reborn as the city of East Palo Alto.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of this event, East Palo Alto is throwing itself a party. Not just any party, but a rich and unique festival of film and tradition that speaks to its challenges and successes as a community.

East Palo Alto has long been stigmatized in the media, and its filmmakers are turning that contradiction to their artistic advantage. The festival is divided into 10 thematic programs, each focusing its lens on a specific area of East Palo Alto's copious history or contemporary complexity.

The festival themes highlight a specific film or films from more than two dozen distinctive contributions. From Cityhood ("Memories of Incorporation") and Inner Landscapes ("Dumbarton Bridge") to Reclaiming Our Own ("Circle of Recovery") and Crossing the Divide ("Secrets of Silicon Valley"), these themes and films speak volumes about where East Palo Alto has been and where it hopes to be.

The East Palo Alto 20th Anniversary Film Festival opens on Friday evening, Sept. 12, when Tupac Shakur's manager and mentor, Leila Steinberg, will be honored of her efforts to tap the artistic potential of disadvantaged youth. Steinberg will discuss the fine points of her mentorship with the deceased rap star, and read prominent selections from his poetry.

Also featured on opening night will be the premiere of the two-part video "Model for Humanity: Omowale Satterwhite," a stirring biography of the architect of East Palo Alto's successful bid for incorporation. Satterwhite will be on hand to receive a plaque honoring his achievements on behalf of humanity and his community.

The festival's slate of film features and shorts is as diverse as the city it is commemorating. The weekend's schedule is as follows:

Friday, Sept. 12, 7:30-10 p.m. (Theme: Cityhood)

"East Palo Alto: Starting a New Age" (1981, seven minutes) A short glimpse at the inside of the incorporation movement.

"Memories of Incorporation" (2003, 15 minutes) A stirring visual record of East Palo Alto's incorporation, as told by both its supporters and its opponents.

"Model for Humanity: Omowale Satterwhite -- Voices of Praise" (2003, 90 minutes). Satterwhite is considered the godfather of East Palo Alto's genesis, but also had a profound impact on the lives of numerous community activists.
Saturday, Sept. 13

Saturday, 10 a.m. to noon (Theme: Taking Charge)

Local East Palo Alto activists and nonprofit leaders will present segments from the films they have used in community organization and development efforts. These films address such topics as civic engagement, local urban agriculture and hunger and nutrition.
"Start Up " (1999, 11 minutes). Start Up is a small agency that provides the necessary training for local entrepreneurs who go on to receive consulting from Stanford Graduate Business School students. This short film follows two East Palo Alto small-business owners, as they move through Start Up's business-development process.

"No Hunger in My Home" (1989, 25 minutes). East Palo Alto's Ecumenical Hunger Program is the setting for this exploration of individual and community responsibility to the issues and responses regarding hunger in the United States.

"One East Palo Alto" (2001, 19 minutes). The story of an innovative social approach to venture capital. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, in partnership with Stanford University and others, approached East Palo Alto with a hefty $5 million to fund the development of its own neighborhood-improvement plan. The result is One East Palo Alto.

"Renting in East Palo Alto" (1996, 30 minutes) Is rent control an effective tool for tenants or does it act as a disincentive for landlords to keep up their properties? These and other questions are the backbone of this insightful video about the impact of renting, eviction and the nature of the rent-control ordinance.

Note: These films and others will be available for individual and small-group viewing throughout the festival, in a video "reading room" adjacent to the Festival site.

Saturday, Noon-2 p.m. (Theme: High School Lost and Found)

"The Ravenswood Experience" (1973, 30 minutes). A coarsely crafted but rare historical glimpse into achieving racial balance at Ravenswood High School in the 1970s.

"Remembering Ravenswood High School " (2002, 12 minutes). I remember Ravenswood High School as the tumultuous cousin to my alma mater, Palo Alto High. The significance of its untimely closing is still a sore spot in East Palo Alto's history. This video documents the process behind the East Palo Alto Mural Arts Project, and the creation of a mural dedicated to the history of Ravenswood High School.

"East Palo Alto High School " (2003, 15 minutes). This charter high school opened in the fall of 2001 to provide more local and collaborative education. Students are afforded the opportunity to study college courses, and participate in community service and internships involving local businesses and organizations.

"Hold Fast: The Story of Eastside College Prep" (2002, 29 minutes). After 20 years without a public high school to its name, East Palo Alto opened Eastside College Preparatory in 1996. Humble beginnings involving eight students and no formal campus have evolved into a large student body with 100 percent graduation and college attendance rate.

Saturday, 2-3:30 p.m. (Theme: Straight Outta EPA)

"EPAttack" (2001, 55 minutes). Director Teodros Hailye blasts onto the local film scene with a fresh, new genre film that can best be described as "hood horror." Part comedy, part horror and part ghetto farce, this indescribable stunner is only "Freddy and Jason Do EPA" on its surface. Simple in narrative structure, "EPAttack" utilizes gratuitous violence, the classic tools of revenge and a deep understanding of the dark side of the rap culture to make its startling point. (It should be noted that if commercially released, the film would carry an R rating.)

Saturday, 3:30-4:30 p.m. (Theme: Youth & Truth)

"Young Media Activist Crew" (2000-2003). The digital-video course in the School After School for Successful Youth (SASSY) enables youngsters to learn digital filmmaking while encouraging them to use their own lives as a subject-matter springboard. This uplifting program features six teen-made films from the first three years of this remarkable course, which is under the direction of UC Santa Cruz film grad Van Nguyen.

Saturday, 4:30-6:30 p.m. (Theme: Crossing the Divide)

"Homeless Culture & Identity: The Struggle in Silicon Valley" (2003, 17 minutes). Three homeless people living in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park tell their poignant stories in a series of interviews that offer new insight into an uncomfortable topic that's becoming increasingly impossible to ignore. How do the homeless comes to terms with themselves while surrounded by the endless hallmarks of American affluence?

"Secrets of Silicon Valley" (2001, 60 minutes). Airing your dirty laundry in public seems to be de rigueur in the land of technology. This compelling documentary cum expose goes behind the scenes to meet the people who can't afford the valley they're creating.

Saturday, 6:30-8:30 p.m. (Theme: Inner Landscapes)

"Dumbarton Bridge" (1999, 98 minutes). Universal themes of love and loss underscore this bittersweet tale of a Bay Area "waterman," whose 20-year old Vietnamese daughter unexpectedly appears in his life. As father and daughter search for a common sense of belonging, both endure painful memories of the past and a rocky road to a stable relationship. The desolate backdrops of Whiskey Gulch, the East Bay salt works and our local Baylands -- along with a moody jazz soundtrack -- make for optimum viewing.

Sunday, Sept. 14

Sunday, 2-3:30 p.m. (Theme: Farewell Whiskey Gulch)

"Over the Ramp" (2000, 19 minutes). Moving through the streets of the now-defunct Whiskey Gulch may seem an exercise in futility, but this bittersweet short is a reflection on the loss of inner-city culture brought about by the construction of University Circle.

"Her Promised Home" (2001, 55 minutes). The House of Wigs, a Whiskey Gulch business staple, is the subject of this personal documentary about the shop's longtime owner and the bonds she developed during a 30-year commitment to her local customers. In addition to offering faux hair to the locals, owner Won Choi offered counsel, solace and religious strength to her customers before her relocation.

Sunday, 3:30-5 p.m. (Theme: Straight Outta EPA)

"EPAttack" -- see Saturday, 2 p.m.

Sunday, 5-7 p.m. (Theme: Reclaiming Our Own)

"Circle of Recovery" (1991, 57 minutes). My best of show. Not just a group of talking heads, this gripping series of interviews with seven African-American men cum recovering addicts moves past the anger and resentment and goes deep inside the horrific road to recovery.

"Priya Karim Haji" (2001, 9 minutes). A tribute to Priya Haji, co-founder of Free at Last, an East Palo Alto recovery center based on the civic-minded (and noble) philosophy "in the community, for the community, by the community."

"NOW with Bill Moyers: David Lewis" (2003, 18 minutes). More than 10 years after "Circle of Recovery," interviewer Bill Moyers follows up with recovering addict David Lewis, who has gone on to speak nationally on the subject of overcoming addiction. Also a co-founder of the aforementioned Free at Last, Lewis is an inspiration to those who struggle with addiction, and those who do not.

Sunday, 7-9 p.m. (Theme: The Struggle for a Quality Community)

"The Other Side of the Freeway" (1990, 30 minutes). How does a community respond to a massive outbreak of crack sales and drug-related violence? Inspired by the courage of one lone resident who takes a risky stand against her neighborhood crime, the community rallies around her cause. Well-intentioned and worthwhile.

"Dreams of a City: Creating East Palo Alto" (1996, 55 minutes). Producer/director (and festival programming goombah) Michael Levin's persuasive documentary chronicles East Palo Alto's rich history, from its 19th-century conception to the mid-1990s. Archival footage is smoothly combined with interviews, maps and in-depth explorations of race relations, the controversy over the creation of Bayshore Freeway and the burgeoning nursery business of our neighbors to the East. Through the voices of its residents, East Palo Alto becomes an energetic character with plenty on its developing mind. "Dreams" was created in cooperation with Stanford University, and is a fitting conclusion to the 20th anniversary festivities.

What: The East Palo Alto 20th Anniversary Film Festival

Where: Community Church of East Palo Alto, located at 2201 University Ave. From Highway 101, take the University Avenue exit going east toward East Palo Alto. Community Church is on the left, at the first intersection (University Avenue and Bell Street).

To avoid the IKEA traffic, take 101's Willow Road Exit in Menlo Park, going east towards Dumbarton Bridge. Make a right at the first intersection onto Newbridge Road, follow Newbridge Road, which merges into Bay Road, and continue on Bay Road to the intersection with University Avenue. Make a right onto University Avenue, and continue to Community Church.

When: Sept. 12-14. Hours are Sept. 12 from 7:30-10 p.m., Sept. 13 from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. and Sept. 14 from 2-9 p.m.

Cost Admission is free.

Info: For more information on films and showtimes, visit


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