Volume 48 Number 08

Volume 48 Number 8 Flip-through Edition

0

Family album

0

arts@sfbg.com

THEATER Forgetting can be a key to understanding, and to freedom. This is something any jazz musician knows. Learning theory, practicing scales, getting to know your instrument and your craft — it’s all prelude to forgetting, to letting go. What comes back to you in the moment, ideally, is deeper than any superficial knowledge. It’s everything behind the music — a life.

A memory play can function similarly, at least it seems to for Margo Hall. The well-known Bay Area actor and director found herself improvising over her own carefully crafted words in the creation of Be Bop Baby — a musical memoir of her remarkable Detroit upbringing under the guiding influence of her musician stepfather Teddy Harris Jr., that Hall says really marks her debut as a playwright (Hall was also one of several actor/co-writers for the 2005 verbatim treatment of the Jonestown tragedy, The People’s Temple).

A world premiere capping Z Space’s 20th anniversary season, Be Bop Baby is set in the busy basement of Hall’s childhood home, which doubled as a rehearsal space for her stepfather — a musical director, composer, arranger, and performer known and respected in both jazz and Motown circles (the latter as, most famously, musical director of the Supremes). There, as well as throughout Detroit’s exceptional musical scene, Hall and her two sisters grew up amid a panoply of musicians, artists, celebrities, and eccentrics.

The basement thus becomes the site of an excavation, filled with colorful characters and anecdotes and brimming with music. Indeed, helping to bring it all to life onstage is a 15-piece jazz orchestra under Marcus Shelby. The acclaimed Bay Area musician-composer — along with dramaturg Nakissa Etemad — collaborated closely on this return to 1960s-70s Detroit, developing arrangements around Hall’s own lyrics and the melody lines she imagined for them.

“Marcus reminds me a lot of my dad,” says Hall, speaking just before a rehearsal last week. “He has a big band; he knows what that means. He understands the discipline of the musicians. Marcus is a guy of tradition. He likes real instruments — I mean all of these things that my stepfather would promote. And he’s just a cool cat, just like my dad, just into the music fulltime; a real, honest, true musician. Growing up with that kind of person really taught me about authenticity and not faking it. I hate to say, ‘You don’t find those people anymore,’ but they sometimes can be a rare breed.”

But even memory, to remain true, can’t always stay fixed. Since the death of her mother in 2000, and Teddy several years later, Hall’s childhood home and its once-vibrant basement have come under a new tenant: Hall’s own, formerly estranged, biological father.

“It’s this crazy thing that happened that I never expected. My real father and my mom divorced 45 years ago. [My biological father is] a free spirit; he’s a totally different character than Teddy. And I found out he moved into Mom and Teddy’s house. Mom and Teddy, that was their house, that was their basement, my mom’s estate, you know, our little two-unit duplex.”

That development found its way into the emotional landscape of the play itself, giving it a more complex dramatic makeup, but also leaving Hall at a loss as to how to channel it all. Staging this kind of dynamic seemed to defy the manicured sentences she had set down on paper. Hall found herself unable to even recall them — something unusual for the experienced actor in her — as if Hall the playwright were someone she had yet to figure out.

“I had written all this text, and I couldn’t remember it. It was very strange. So I said, ‘Can I just improv a little it on top of this text so that it really feels authentic?’ I became the actor, and I felt, ‘I don’t like what that playwright wrote!'” she laughs. “Was I censoring myself? Was I trying to be perfect in the writing? I had to figure out how to take that text and make it my own — even though I wrote it. Now, the more we do it, I do say a lot from the text. But it’s a freedom that I have now, where I can be more authentic in the moment.”

As for her ongoing relationship with her biological father, Hall credits Be Bop Baby with strengthening her resolve to pursue an understanding there.

“It’s definitely made me realize that I do need to pursue my relationship with my real father more than I have,” concludes Hall. “And he’s a wonderful, fascinating man. I could write a whole play about him too,” she says with conviction, before an afterthought makes its way quietly to the surface. “Maybe I will?” *

BE BOP BABY: A MUSICAL MEMOIR

Wed/20-Thu/21, 7pm; Fri/22-Sat/23, 8pm, $25-75

Z Space

450 Florida, SF

www.zspace.org

 

Gray days

3

arts@sfbg.com

TOFU AND WHISKEY New DIY record labels? Minimalist two-person ukulele bands? These are not the signs of fast-paced, modern, glossy hi-tech lifestyles. While San Francisco is at a crossroads, on the verge of an identity crisis splintered throughout many a start-up, at least a few of SF’s musicians (and likely plenty more) have made an artist’s leap farther north to even grayer Portland, Ore.

Magic Fight’s Alex Haager is one of those expatriates. He started a new indie label — Breakup Records — and moved to Portland with his partner, Sierra Frost, another musician, from the bands clintongore and Downer Party. “It’s a great place for music and a great place to live if you make less than 200k a year. And we like the rain.”

They started the label last month with an indeterminate interest in dreamy, brainy pop acts. There are already plans to release records by Frozen Folk, Magic Fight, Jesus Dude Mom, and a few more in the next six months or so. Right now, the roster of acts soon to be rolled out is all from the Bay Area.

“We each have tight relationships with some great independent bands whom we have worked with in different capacities over the years,” says Haager, from his newish home in Portland. “Our goal is to help grow the bands that inspire us — especially musicians with approaches and aesthetics that we find interesting within the realms of what can be considered pop.”

“Frankly, we’re both underwhelmed by garage rock. We plan to release records that offer an alternative to the overly nostalgic, blasted out stuff that has become so prevalent in California in the last 10 to 15 years. We want to showcase what the West Coast sounds like to us.”

One of the label’s first releases will be the debut EP of Kitten Grenade, a deceptively named duo made up of old-timey vocalist-ukulele player Katelyn Sullivan and drummer Ben Manning. Breakup previewed it with a single release a few weeks back, for a song titled “Gray.”

The minimalist pop track is arresting — occupying a space between bright and dark, it’s both melancholy and lightly fluttering over heavier vibes, with much of those emotions pinned to Sullivan’s jazz-inflected vocals. “That was very intentional,” says San Francisco’s Sullivan, who lives in the Mission. “‘Gray’ started out being about my inability to make decisions, and is another play on opposites; it felt like a great song to pick as our first single.”

The video for the track, shot in black and white, similarly plays with light and dark shadows. It features crisp repetitive images cropped in closely around Sullivan’s face and bare shoulders, and dancing orchids and roses twirling around her. Like Georgia O’Keeffe’s storied paintings, the close-ups of the flowers can resemble female sexual organs, in particular the still from the video that was chosen for the cover of the single.

“In a way, the orchid in the image — with its vaginal undertones — could represent purity, which then fades into the muddled gray of the real world in the background. Using it as the cover wasn’t so much planned as it was a happy accident. It’s an image that happened to be in our video that really resonated with me,” Sullivan says.

The full four-track debut EP, Nice Day, on Breakup is coming in January 2014. Sullivan — who calls Philz Coffee, the Phone Booth, El Rio, and Hog and Rocks her favorite local spots — says the album title references her experience with drummer Manning when they were recording during the “beautiful San Francisco summer we had this year.”

So why go with a label full of SF ex-pats? Turns out Sullivan played music with Frost before, in her previous ukulele band, Hate Factory. “[I] have always admired her smarts and knowledge when it comes to music,” says Sullivan of Frost. “Both Alex and Sierra are working musicians, but they’re also excellent at playing a supportive creative role. In terms of building my band, they’ve really helped me realize what’s in my head when on stage, in the studio, and representing myself out in the world, which can be hard and weird. It’s wonderful to be a part of something during its beginning stages.”

Sullivan, whose long-running influences are Fiona Apple and Joli Holland, got her own start doing musical theater on the East Coast. She came to California to study visual arts and later began writing music. She met Frost around then and they formed Hate Factory, another charming act with a defiant name: “Although most people who hear the name Kitten Grenade imagine shredding guitars and screaming metal ballads, it really does fit the theme of our little indie folk band. The name has actually been with me for a long time, and was the name of my thesis project in art school. Kitten Grenade in itself is all about juxtapositions and opposites. I really like names that trick you.” she explains. “I mean, when you hear the name Hate Factory, you don’t think of two cute girls playing ukuleles.”

While Sullivan and Manning await the release of their EP on Breakup, they’ll play a few local shows including opening the BFF.FM launch party for the new local radio station Best Frequencies Forever, with the Happy Hollows next week (Nov. 27, 9pm, $10. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com.)

“If you haven’t seen Kitten Grenade yet, you definitely should,” says Haager. “She’s basically an angel.”

As for Haager’s concert schedule, he’ll flee the life of Portland comfort momentarily for the Bay Bridged’s annual Bay Brewed festival Dec. 7 at Public Works. Also, he too is looking forward to a new release through Breakup: a split cassette EP with Oakland-based Frozen Folk. And of course, he’s excited about Kitten Grenade’s debut.

“It’s simple and elegant and will encourage you to fall in love.”

 

WORLD MUSIC MAYHEM

Longstanding global music-mashers Dengue Fever (of LA) and New York City’s Balkan Beat Box (originally from Tel Aviv) both arrive in SF on extended tours this week. Led by Cambodian singer-songwriter Chhom Nimol and guitarist Zac Holtzman, Dengue Fever will release its Girl from the North EP Dec. 3 — its first release in more than two years, on its own label, Tuk Tuk Records. It plays the Independent this Thu/21 with locals Seventeen Evergreen (8pm, $18. 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com). BBB is releasing new videos, including one for “Suki Muki,” a single off 2012’s Give (Nat Geo Records), and a remix of “Suki Muki” by Ori Kaplan’s alter ego DJ Shotnez. It plays with Canadian Bhangra-Celtic fusion act (really) Delhi 2 Dublin at the Regency Fri/22 (8:30pm, $27. Regency Ballroom, 1300 Van Ness, SF. www.theregencyballroom.com).

 

House party

8

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC It was decided — my BFF-roommate and I would host a rock ‘n’ roll show, and like many of our favorite activities (feasting, boozing, twirling), we became set on throwing said party from the comfort of our own home. Denying our fears of venue hunting, financial commitments, and general hassle, we focused on the power rewarded to the classic hostess with the mostest; the ability to control all elements of a dirty bash and adjust them to our liking.

What bands will play? Ones we like, who also like each other. What kind of liquor will be present? Whiskey, no exceptions. What kind of snacks might we serve? None, people should bring us burritos (or in my case, homemade kimchi and quinoa — a foul smelling food for a social event that did wonders for curbing my potential hangover). Not only was this party to be at our house, but this little rock shindig would blast from our backyard on a (hopefully sunny) Sunday afternoon. Day drinking to shredding guitars? The neighbors were going to love it.

We nailed down a date and who would play, rounding out the bill with some hip DJ acquaintances. A buddy drafted a flier and the process of inviting humans began. The presence of close friends was expected and offers for help were not denied. Then we cast the net, awkwardly approaching yoga teachers, favorite baristas, local celebrities, and secret crushes. The boyfriend promised to roll deep with eligible males of various sexualities and I may have plotted some (later to be discovered unsuccessful) matchmaking. We urged bands to cart along their musician homies and peed at the thought of John Dwyer or Wymond Miles walking up our stoop in the halo of afternoon light.

Of course we had no legitimate way of predicting who would actually show up. Expect everyone who confirms to flake and everyone who rejects to bring a pack of wingmen. We crossed our fingers and braided our hair, then calmed our nerves by remembering that even if all bailed, the bands were confirmed. A show in our yard is still a show in our yard. Guaranteed win. Oh yes, and we had a fuck-ton of beer — free of charge. We miraculously managed to get the party “sponsored,” which allowed us to collect donations for the dudes on stage. Major bonus.

While party planning seemed to be sailing, our biggest concern loomed: the noise complaint. A similar party we hosted in June garnered 22 calls to the SFPD — thankfully our only injury was a slap on the wrist and some sneers. In anticipation of upset, I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies from mom’s recipe and skipped up the stairs of the neighboring stoop, treats in tow.

With the oldies next door sugared up, I called the SFPD for the lawful scoop and learned that cop arrival is completely tattletale-based. Officers can only issue a citation if the party pooper signs a citizen’s arrest. This is why you ALWAYS INVITE THE NEIGHBORS. If the uniforms still rap on your door: answer it, shoot the shit, and promise to cool it, ASAP. Our biggest takeaway: short sets. By the time the doorbell rings, they’ll be singing the encore. “It’s their last song, officer. I promise,” perfectly compliments a drunk wink.

So, after weeks of planning and a morning full of chaotic setup, we were crazy high on anticipation. I forgot to shower. I drank everyone’s coffee. I zoomed down the block for incense — “to set the mood,” I shouted. And then all we could do was wait for the madness to begin.

Heads banged. Hair was tangled. Happiness was found at the bottom of countless empty cases. People climbed the fire escape for a better view of the bands, while my exes pleasantly mingled in the garden below. The cops dropped by, as anticipated, but left without trouble. My dream of getting a mug shot will have to wait.

The freedom of a privately hosted show put everyone in a tender mood and it felt overwhelmingly blissful to support local music in independent fashion. The party was a complete success, depending on how you measure extreme happiness and unfathomable coolness. And OK, we were hammered. Everything is a delightful blur and I ended up wrestling in the gravel. You can do what you want at your own house — people can’t say shit. All the more reason why we’re already planning the next round. See you there.

 

Gobble online

2

culture@sfbg.com

FOOD AND DRINK As Thanksgiving nears, along with the daunting task of writing up the grocery list, more food-savvy family chefs are swapping the commercially manufactured Broad Breasted White for a heritage turkey, which promises better flavor through a higher standard of bird life. Famous local grower Bill Niman of BN Ranch is trying to give his free-range, GMO-free, organic heritage birds a wider audience by offering them for order: starting at $98.98 for an eight-10 pound bird, delivered anywhere in the US, through his website, www.bnranchtotable.com. We caught up with him to ask what all the cluck’s about.

SF Bay Guardian What breeds of heritage turkey do you raise on BN Ranch?

Bill Niman Narragansett, Standard Bronze, and Spanish Blacks.

SFBG What is an average lifespan?

BN From hatching to market, probably 28 weeks.

SFBG How many do you raise for one holiday season?

BN This year we have about 8,000 heritage turkeys.

SFBG What do your turkeys eat?

BN It’s a GMO free ration. We’ve been struggling for about three years now to get something that’s GMO free, and this year we were able to do that 100 percent.

SFBG The other distinguishing factor of heritage turkeys, besides lifespan and feed, is their ability to mate on their own?

BN As extraordinary as that might sound. [Laughs.] And they can fly. And they don’t get sick. And they’re hearty. And they’re interesting, and intelligent. It’s all the things you’d expect from any animal in the barnyard.

SFBG What’s the basic personality of a heritage?

BN Turkeys are really cruel to each other, in the pecking order and whatnot, surprisingly cruel — but they’re really friendly to humans. When they’re young, 6 to 8 weeks old, they fly up and land on your shoulder, they follow you around, and in a sense we become surrogate mothers. You can call, and they follow you. I suspect these turkeys that we raise are so close to being feral, they’re so much like their wild ancestors. They could fly away anytime they want to. But they waddle up to the building, and say, “Kill me and eat me.” That’s probably how turkey became part of Thanksgiving, because they’re ready to be eaten in the fall.

SFBG How do you manage to see the turkeys as both animals and as meat?

BN You mean sending them to slaughter? Well, it is difficult, and it doesn’t get easier with numbers. What’s important is to make sure the animals only have one bad day on the farm. For me and our operations, it’s essential that we are at the slaughterhouse, making sure that it’s done as properly and as humanely as possible. We do that because we respect the animals, but we also know that there’s a very direct correlation between the eating quality of the animals and their temperament at slaughter.

SFBG What about flavor?

BN They rule in taste tests, the heritage turkeys. The entire bird, even though it has a white breast, has the wonderful characteristics of the dark meat.

SFBG Got any favorite Thanksgiving preparation?

BN Yes I do. You cook the turkey till the breast meat is done, take it out, remove the leg and thigh, put them back in covered, and roast them for an additional half an hour, while the breast stays on the carcass on the counter, warm and covered.

 

Born to lose

0

By Dennis Harvey

arts@sfbg.com

FILM Alexander Payne may be unique at this point in that he’s in a position — which, of course, could easily be changed by a flop or two — of being able to make nothing but small, human, and humorous films with major-studio money on his own terms (re: casting and final cut). As he’s said, in a better world this would be the norm rather than a singular achievement. It’s hazardous to make too much of a movie like Nebraska, because it is small — despite the wide Great Plains landscapes shot in a wide screen format — and shouldn’t be entered into with overinflated or otherwise wrong-headed expectations.

Still, a certain gratitude is called for. As usual, most of the year’s better films have been ones (too indie, too foreign) that won’t get the big drumbeat of awards-consideration thumping. And notably this year, most of the ones that will have been American movies made by foreign directors (i.e. Gravity, Dallas Buyers Club, 12 Years a Slave, Prisoners, etc.) Nebraska is, finally, a win by the home team.

It is also the first time Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor weren’t involved in the script, and the first one since their 1996 Citizen Ruth that isn’t based on someone else’s novel. (Hitherto little-known Bob Nelson’s original screenplay apparently first came to Payne’s notice a decade ago, but got put off in favor of other projects.) It could easily have been a novel, though, as the things it does very well (internal thought, sense of place, character nuance) and the things it doesn’t much bother with (plot, action, dialogue) are more in line with literary fiction than commercial cinema.

Elderly Woody T. Grant (Bruce Dern) keeps being found grimly trudging through snow and whatnot on the outskirts of Billings, Mont., bound on foot (he’s no longer allowed to drive) to Lincoln, Neb., 900 miles away. Brain no doubt fuzzed by age, not to mention decades of drinking and tuning out the Mrs. (June Squibb as Kate, who in a moment of restraint greets his latest forcible return with “You dumb cluck!”), he’s convinced he needs to collect the million dollars waiting for him there. After all, he got a notice he’d won that amount in the mail. Never mind that it was just some Publishers Clearing House-type flier in fact promising nothing while attempting to sell magazine subscriptions. Woody didn’t read the fine print, and won’t be dissuaded. Something bigger than reality — or senility, even — is compelling him to make this trek. Finally, long-suffering younger son David (Will Forte), a stereo salesman whose girlfriend of two years just moved out, agrees to drive him in order to simply put the matter to rest. None of this will be particularly easy or pleasant, even if David is used to dad being problematic (or as Bob Odenkirk as older brother Ross puts it, “[He] never gave a shit about us”). Perhaps selectively deaf, Woody is no conversationalist, and claims that he’s sobered up are quickly dashed when he stumbles into their first-night motel room and bashes his head in the dark, requiring stitches. This fool’s mission acquires a whole extended family-full of other fools when father and son detour to the former’s podunk farming hometown.

There, a slew of Grants — the men all close-mouthed, the women all gabby — prove eager to believe Woody has struck gold, coming up with variably imaginary reasons why they should share in his newfound wealth. Likewise greeting this reunion with eyes full of dollar signs is Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach), a former business partner who by Woody’s reckoning has actually owed him money for 40-odd years.

Nebraska has no moments so funny or dramatic they’d look outstanding in excerpt; low-key as they were, 2009’s Sideways and 2011’s The Descendants had bigger set pieces and narrative stakes. But like those movies, this one just ambles along until you realize you’re completely hooked, all positive emotional responses on full alert. There are minor things to quibble about (mother Kate could be less of a shrew — it’s always a bit bothersome when the only significant female role in a movie evokes the “b” word), but so much that’s so deeply satisfying you hardly want to get out of your seat at the end.

Having apparently considered and bypassed bigger names (like Jack Nicholson, who for my money was too snarky — too Jack Nicholson — for 2002’s About Schmidt), Payne has a perfect cast, from 1970s almost-stars Dern and Keach to pliant-faced comedians playing straight Forte and Odenkirk. Forte (who also does good dramatic work in another upcoming seriocomedy, the Irish Run & Jump) in particular does the kind of ballasting act that attracts little attention to itself but perfectly harmonizes with other actors’ higher notes. We can feel how David has probably always undervalued himself, as well as how his wishing the people around him were kinder just might, eventually, make them so.

It’s a great pleasure just to watch the timeless flat vistas — timeless because these characters stayed behind in towns everybody else has been leaving for decades — of Phedon Papamichael’s photography, which recalls other great black and white rural movies of the color era like Hud (1963) and Paper Moon (1973). Nor should anyone overlook the soundtrack by Mark Orton of SF’s own Tin Hat, whose other members also contributed to an acoustic score that at an unusual moment of high-profile movies dominated by American roots music — neotraditionalist 1960s folk in Inside Llewyn Davis, bluegrass in the Belgian Broken Circle Breakdown — feels at once the most modest, effective, and emotionally authentic derivation of the lot.

 

NEBRASKA opens Fri/22 in Bay Area theaters.

Out of the fog

0

cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM In movies, maybe more than in life, trouble awaits outsiders who poke into cults that don’t take kindly to outsiders. Sound of My Voice (2011) is a recent example, but The Wicker Man (1973) remains probably the gold standard of “Pardon me, but I’ll be infiltrating your society, passing judgment, and suffering the inevitable consequences” cinema. For every recruitment-happy group (step right up, young ladies, and throw your lot in with 2011’s Martha Marcy May Marlene), there are plenty more that would just as soon be left alone.

A new entry into this genre, Holy Ghost People, comes courtesy of Mitchell Altieri, half of the directing duo known as the Butcher Brothers (the other “brother,” Phil Flores, co-wrote and co-produced). You may remember the BBs from their 2006 breakout, The Hamiltons — about a family with a bloody secret. It’d make a perfectly nightmarish double-feature with another recent indie horror, Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are. Holy Ghost People, which borrows its title and some archival footage from the 1967 documentary about Pentecostal churchgoers in West Virginia (now in the public domain, it’s viewable on YouTube), aims more for dread than gore, and represents an artistic step forward for the San Francisco-bred pair.

If certain choices don’t entirely work (a bookending voice-over feels unnecessary, given the film’s vivid visuals; the score can feel intrusive at times), Holy Ghost People is bolstered by some blistering performances, chiefly from co-writer Joe Egender as Brother Billy, the boyish leader of a church compound tucked into the Southern wilderness. (The film was shot at a summer camp — a setting not used so creepily since the first few Friday the 13th flicks.) Stumbling not-so-innocently into Billy’s lair are unlikely friends Wayne (Brendan McCarthy) and Charlotte (Emma Greenwell), who pretend to be spiritual wanderers when really they’re searching for Charlotte’s long-lost sister, last seen spiraling into junkie oblivion.

Anyone — but particularly Billy, whose tidy pompadour and welcoming words can’t hide the fact that he’s as sinister as the serpents he handles during sermons — can see that Wayne, a haunted alcoholic, and Charlotte, who’s battling her own demons, aren’t who they claim to be. Still, they’re cautiously accepted by lower-ranking members, including Sister Sheila (Cameron Richardson), a soft-spoken blonde whose beauty is marred by prominent facial scars.

As events get freakier in God’s country (or is it?), Holy Ghost People doesn’t quite offer a grand payoff to all that suspense — though it does establish a new clause to that old cinematic rule about guns: If you see a poisonous snake in the first act, damn certain it’ll bite someone by the end.

Holy Ghost People kicks off the San Francisco Film Society’s fifth annual Cinema By the Bay Festival, which showcases movies made “in or about the Bay Area,” as well as works made by artists with Bay Area connections. This agreeably loose thematic structure allows the Tennessee-shot Holy Ghost People to share marquee space with SF-centric doc American Vagabond, by Finnish director Susanna Helke.

American Vagabond, about homeless LGBT youth, is particularly timely in light of the SF Board of Supervisors’ recent vote to close parks overnight. Golden Gate Park is home for James and Tyler, a young couple who’ve fled their close-minded families, dreaming of a better life in the rainbow capital of California. Guided by James’ poetic, confessional narration — as well as other voices that chime in to share their experiences — American Vagabond is a specific, deeply personal story that also offers a broader comment on how gay youths and the homeless are treated, even in a city as progressive as SF. And it does take some unexpected turns, as when James reunites with the family that rejected him — though the reasons for the reconciliation are not happy ones.

Elsewhere in the fest, take note of Berry Minott’s The Illness and the Odyssey, a medical whodunit of sorts that explores the history and controversy surrounding Lytico-Bodig, a neurological disease found almost exclusively in Guam. For years, scientists have believed that finding its cause would be like “a Rosetta stone,” according to Dr. Oliver Sacks, resulting in cures for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and related illnesses. But since nobody can settle on a hypothesis — is it infectious? Caused by plants? The result of a curse? — and nobody really wants to share research (what, and let that Nobel Prize slip away?), there’s been little progress other than clashing speculation, to the great annoyance of those in Guam whose families are affected by the disease. Ultimately, The Illness and the Odyssey is more about the scientific process than anything else, with plenty of prickly personalities (in both current and vintage footage) stepping up to share their views.

Also worth a mention: In Hak Jang’s The Other Side of the Mountain, a Korean War-era romance (with musical numbers) that happens to be the first-ever North Korea/US cinematic co-production. And don’t miss “Street Smarts: YAK Films’ Dance Then and Now,” an Oakland-born phenomenon that has spawned a international array of films showcasing so-called urban dance — staged on subway cars, in intersections, and other unexpected places — of the most limber, slinky, sassy, acrobatic, and awe-inspiring varieties. *

CINEMA BY THE BAY FESTIVAL

Fri/22-Sun/24, $10-$25

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St, SF

www.sffs.org

 

Pop shop

0

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE For an event with a reputation for wall-shaking energy, the first program of the 15th Annual San Francisco International Hip Hop DanceFest turned out to be an oddly muted experience. The mix of acts — which in the past has always opened new perspectives on an art that has moved from the street onto the stage (and even reality TV) — simply wasn’t potent enough. Also, with only one company from abroad, the evening just barely warranted its claim of being “international.”

But even though the program disappointed as a totality, it did include individual acts of quality. In an aesthetic that so often emphasizes virtuosic use of the torso and the legs, Struggle for Pleasure — from a sextet of dancers of the London-based Far From the Norm Company — captivated because of its gentle and controlled employment of the arms. They snaked, embraced, and coiled into tendrils, perhaps embodying the human spirit, maybe with a sense of longing. Performed to violins, the choreography, much of it presented as a group endeavor, dipped the dancers into a hypnotic state in which they froze or tried to break open. One of them readied himself for a sprint that never happened. Another exploded into a whirlwind. Struggle felt subdued, dreamlike, and yet true.

In their first appearance at this festival, New York’s Bones the Machine and DJ Aaron sent gasps through the audience with the decidedly uncommon Bonebreakkings. It was a truly astounding contortionist act in which they pretzled their arms into joint-crunching positions — accompanied by appropriate sound effects. Even though the act has been widely circulated thanks to America’s Got Talent, to see these two dancers live was a pleasure, though a somewhat chilly one.

Another excellent first-timer was the Embodiment Project, one of the Bay Area’s most fascinating hip-hop troupes, in part because of the way it collaborates with MoonCandy LiveHouse’s fine musicians who, once again, performed on stage. In the sinister Dare To Love, choreographer Nicole Klaymoon and Michelle “Mystique” Lukmani slithered in and out of d. Sabella Grimes’ slippery embrace, paying what looked like a heavy price. Grimes, a former member of Rennie Harris Puremovement, and an extraordinarily sinewy and seductive popper, finally snared himself vocalist Shamont Hussey. This was hot theater, over so fast you hardly knew what hit you.

Also fun to watch was the return of four members from FootworKINGz. These speed demons developed a virtuosic style of footwork, based on one that originated in Chicago as a response to house and juke music. In addition to delivering razor-sharp attacks at dizzying tempos, the quartet performed with wit and charm.

It is understandable that the fest wants to honor the Bay Area’s diverse hip-hop community, which offers training in dozens of local studios and schools. These are also places where many youngsters find a welcoming environment to develop skills and in which to express themselves, so there has always been place for them at the annual Hip Hop Fest. But this year’s selection short-changed the audience. Whatever the curating process, it needs to be improved. Openers Funk Beyond Control is one of the largest and most well-established Bay Area schools, but the group did not look as good as they had at previous festivals. The choreography looked tired and lacked care.

The premise for After Hours was intriguing enough. It took a popular dance trope — the doll that acquires life — and translated it into mannequins that take over a department store once it closes its doors. After opened with a sextet of women fighting over some hats on sale before being kicked out. Then the black-clad ensemble descended from its pedestal for elastic group dancing, some modestly intriguing solos, including the compulsory tot — here cast as the janitor. But the whole thing felt dutiful and uninspired. Also, not waiting for the traditional community bow at the end of the evening was disrespectful to fellow artists and the festival’s producer, Micaya.

Another first appearance, by the Great House of Dance, showcased a huge company from Sacramento. It was big but not great. Its group sequences seemed strung together willy-nilly, and went on for much too long. There was nothing that held this presentation together besides the good will by the performers — some who had real talent.

Illstyle & Peace Productions Ain’t No Party Like a Illstyle Party, sent individual performers into competent, sometimes athletically-impressive solos, but this was a thrown-together, clumsy, applause-milking endeavor, unworthy of a group that has done much better work. Why?

Also part of the festival were San Francisco’s well known and solidly performing SoulForce Dance Company, and Oakland’s spunky, in your face, all-women Mix’d Ingrdnts. *

Parents under pressure

1

 In recent weeks, the San Francisco Unified School District held a series of community forums to ask parents what they think kids need in order to thrive in school. The meetings were held as part of a policymaking process leading up to next year’s renewal of two important funds — the Children’s Fund and the Public Education Enrichment Fund, which account for some $100 million in funding combined.

There were huge turnouts — a Chinatown forum, where Mayor Ed Lee was reportedly in attendance, attracted more than 180 participants, while a Nov. 14 meeting at Cesar Chavez Elementary in the Mission District drew a crowd of between 80 and 90.

The parents weren’t exactly asking for more museum field trips for their kids. During breakout sessions where facilitators wrote group members’ concerns on flip pads, a few recurring themes emerged. “Job security for parents,” one read. “Affordable housing,” another stated. “It’s a shame to have to talk about lack of funds given wealth and corporations in SF,” more parent feedback stated.

Maria Su, director of the San Francisco Department of Children, Youth and their Families, thanked parents for coming and told them, “We know how hard it is and how challenging it is to survive in the city. But that doesn’t mean we should give up.”

The whole exercise provided a glimpse into just how tough it is for families to get by in a city where a hefty cost of living amounts to serious pressure. “The sacrifices they make is, their children will have access to resources you can’t get anywhere else,” said Mario Paz with the Good Samaritan Family Resource Center, who works with a lot of Latino immigrant families.

A report digesting the findings of stakeholder focus groups boiled it down. “Many participants commented on … the extraordinarily high cost of living in San Francisco,” it noted, which “contributes to both financial and emotional strain on the part of our many working class and lower income residents.” 

 

Eviction epidemic spurs legislative solutions

3

Tenants, organizers and residents impacted by Ellis Act evictions packed the Board of Supervisors Chambers at San Francisco City Hall Nov. 14 for a hearing on eviction and displacement in San Francisco. As more and more residents face ousters only to be priced out, lawmakers and advocates are floating legislative fixes to try and reverse the trend before it reaches the soaring levels of the displacement epidemic that impacted the city during the first dot-com boom.

“It seems to me that we have a tale of two cities,” Sup. David Campos, who requested the hearing, said at the start of the discussion, held at the Board of Supervisors’ Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee. “We must act urgently to address this crisis, which I believe is a crisis,” he added. “We are fighting, I think, for the soul of San Francisco.”

Fred Brousseau of the San Francisco Budget and Legislative Analyst’s office shared his recent analysis on eviction and displacement trends across the city.

Overall evictions in San Francisco rose from 1,242 to 1,716 over the past three years, he said, reflecting an increase of 38.2 percent. Ellis Act evictions rose by 169.8 percent in that same time frame.

Almost 42 percent of individuals impacted by eviction had some form of disability, Brousseau noted, while 49 percent had incomes at or below the federal poverty level. On the whole, a total of nearly 43 percent of San Francisco households are “rent-burdened,” a term that officially means devoting more than 30 percent of household income toward rent, the study found.

Ted Gullicksen of the San Francisco Tenants Union emphasized that tenant buyouts, frequently offered in lieu of an eviction, are also driving displacement, although those transactions aren’t reflected in city records. “There are about three of them for every Ellis Act eviction,” he said. “When you consider them in combination with Ellis, the numbers are very dramatic.”

Throughout the afternoon, tenants shared their stories and fears about getting frozen out of San Francisco by eviction. “I’m looking at shopping carts, and I’m terrified,” one woman told supervisors during public comment. “You have to do something. It might not be enough for me right now, but you can’t do this to any more people.”

Campos is working with Assembly Member Tom Ammiano on a proposal to grant San Francisco the authority to place a moratorium on Ellis Act evictions. He’s also pursuing legislation that would create a mechanism at the San Francisco Rent Board to allow tenants to register formal complaints about landlord harassment and other kinds of pressure.

“I am eager to introduce a bill in January,” Ammiano noted. “One option might be a law that will allow the local jurisdictions, like San Francisco, to suspend the Ellis Act or establish a moratorium, because of the emergency housing situation. Another possibility is working to make sure that landlords are not skirting Ellis eviction requirements by improperly pressuring tenants to leave. We must do something, but we have to work together to make it successful.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Lee recently announced that he is working with Sen. Mark Leno on legislation to curb Ellis Act evictions by requiring additional permits or hearings before they proceed. They’re also contemplating floating more stringent regulations on the sale and resale of properties where tenants have been evicted under Ellis.

At the end of the day, it’s clear that housing advocates are gaining momentum as the spike in tenant ousters continues in pricey San Francisco, where rents are the highest in the nation.

 

After Prop 30, What’s Next? Reform Prop 13.

23

 

By Matt Haney

Proposition 30 was a big deal: It raised over $6 billion a year by increasing taxes on the wealthy, balanced the state budget, and allowed our K-12 and higher education systems to put an end to mass layoffs, exploding class sizes, and ballooning tuition.

But one year later, it’s about time we ask ourselves: What’s next?

Even after Prop 30, the under funding of education and essential services remains, with California still near the bottom nationally in K-12 per pupil funding. Prop 30 was a step forward, but we all knew that we ultimately would have to take on the “Godzilla” of California tax policy: Proposition 13.

Since its passage in 1978, Prop 13 has decimated public education and essential services in our state. Per pupil support in California plummeted from top 10 in the nation to bottom 10, and the tax burden shifted away from businesses and onto individuals. As state investments in services and education went down, poverty went up.

California voters originally passed Prop 13 mainly to protect homeowners. But due to loopholes in the law that prevent regular reassessment of commercial property, large commercial property owners are getting a multi-billion dollar public subsidy. Many commercial property owners are paying taxes at rates that are nearly unchanged from decades ago. Chevron alone is under-taxed by a billion dollars!

Reforming the commercial property tax loophole in Prop 13 could bring in over $7 billion dollars annually, most of which would go directly to education. Despite new funding from Prop 30, our schools desperately need greater investments if we are going to provide a 21st century education for all of our children.

Prop 13 has long been viewed as the “third rail” of California politics. Talk about reforming it, and risk your political career. Yet recent polls show an openness from Californians to reform Prop 13 to ensure more regular value reassessment of commercial property. Demographic change, voter education and registration, and the victory of Prop 30, have shifted the political landscape.

The San Francisco School Board recently joined dozens of School Boards, City Councils, and Board of Supervisors across the state in calling for the reform of Prop 13 through a statewide ballot initiative in 2016 or sooner. The strategy, led by organizations like Evolve California and California Calls, is to ramp up the pressure from the ground up. Cities, schools, and communities are the canaries in the mine. We have experienced Prop 13’s carnage firsthand, and we cannot be silent.

Just as we did with Prop 30, Californians deserve a choice: fully fund education and essential services, or maintain a broken and inequitable tax system. We can’t have both. Next time the stakes will be even higher, so it’s critical that we start preparing for this fight now. Let’s get to work.

 

Overstimulated

2

Environmentalists who oppose fracking in California are concerned about more than possible groundwater contamination or other hazards that could directly result from the fossil fuel drilling practice. They also want to save the planet.

The Monterey Shale, a massive underground geological formation spanning a large swath of California, contains approximately 15 billion barrels of hard-to-get oil that could technically be extracted in massive fracking operations, Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity said during a Nov. 15 call with reporters.

All told, burning that quantity would eventually release six billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air. “That is a carbon bomb,” Siegel stated bluntly. Combined with methane that is released from the wells during the drilling operations, “a fracking boom in California could undo all the progress our state has made on greenhouse reductions,” she warned.

But for now, the debate on fracking in California is focused on newly drafted state regulations that would place controls on the practice for the first time. The proposed rules pertain to permitting and disclosure in the areas surrounding individual wells — yet they don’t contemplate the cumulative impact of fossil fuel combustion over time.

Fracking, formally known as hydraulic fracturing, is a technique used for extracting oil or natural gas. It involves injecting high-pressure fluids underground, often containing toxic chemicals, to break up bedrock in order to access the fossil fuel sources trapped within. The California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) released a set of draft regulations Nov. 15 proposing new rules around what’s known as “well stimulation,” industry-speak for a type of drilling that includes fracking.

The new rules are slated to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2015. They’ll continue to be hashed out throughout next year, and DOGGR will accept public comment on the initial proposal until Jan. 14, 2014.

The regulations came about in response to Senate Bill 4, legislation enacted Sept. 30 after a statewide coalition of environmentalists launched a campaign to put a stop to fracking, which is already happening in some parts of California. Many groups within that coalition viewed the legislation as flawed, because it didn’t prohibit the practice outright.

“The only safe way forward for California is a halt to fracking in our state,” Siegel said.

Still, the draft regulations do seek to place new requirements on the oil and gas industry in an effort to protect public health where fracking occurs. According to DOGGR records, fracking is most common in Kern County.

“There are some good provisions in the regulations,” Bill Allayaud of the Environmental Working Group said in the briefing. “For the first time, all forms of well stimulation will require a permit from DOGGR. That’s a good thing.”

The rules will also require companies to conduct an analysis of groundwater and other wells nearby before proceeding with fracking operations, unlike before. The new regulations also establish a notification process to make nearby residents aware of new drilling operations.

Meanwhile, SB 4 calls for an environmental impact report and a study on the overall health and safety effects of fracking — but it’s unlikely that this study would result in a prohibition on the drilling practice, as environmentalists had initially called for.

“The Natural Resources Agency is currently developing the scope of the study and will begin the analysis in December 2013,” according to a fact sheet published by DOGGR.

“We don’t think we’ll be getting deep answers as to whether fracking and acidization and all forms of well stimulation are safe or not, for both protecting public health and the environment,” Allayaud said.

Meanwhile, he expressed concern that the public comment period for the initial set of proposed rules did not provide enough time for concerned Californians to respond, because people are being asked to weigh in over the course of the holiday season. The Environmental Working Group has requested an extension of that deadline, but it seems unlikely that DOGGR will grant one.

“The comment period was extended from the mandatory 45 days to 60 days for that reason,” California Department of Conservation Chief Deputy Director Jason Marshall said when asked whether the deadline extension would be granted in light of the holidays. “Additionally, we are anticipating an additional 45-day public comment period after the initial draft regulations are adjusted based on that initial public comment.”

Environmentalists also voiced the concern that while DOGGR plans to hold a series of public hearings on the proposed fracking regulations, none will be held in the Bay Area, despite its concentration of advocates who helped get the statewide opposition campaign off the ground.

“The law requires one public meeting, if requested. We are doing five, primarily in areas of the state where oil production is most common,” Marshall responded when asked why there weren’t any Bay Area meetings scheduled.

Asked whether any of the pending studies would take into account the six billion metric tons of CO2 that could potentially be released if the Monterey Shale were to be developed, Marshall seemed to suggest that the state was willing to go along with a regulated form of fracking even as it continues pursuing initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“We still derive over 90 percent of our transportation fuels from hydrocarbons,” he wrote in an email. “With SB 4 and these regulations, California is acting now to ensure that extraction of those hydrocarbons happens in the safest way possible, even as we work to reduce our energy dependence on those hydrocarbons.”

Single-payer is the cure

168

EDITORIAL We’re sorry to see all the problems surrounding President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which has made some important improvements to the country’s healthcare system, such as helping those with preexisting conditions get coverage and preventing those who do have coverage from being arbitrarily dropped. Given a break from being exploited by the insurance industry, there’s no way this country’s citizens will want to go back to how things were.

But the convoluted Obamacare system was a foreseeable mess, one that is now causing unnecessary anxiety across the country and bringing right-wing extremists back from the political dead as the mid-term elections approach. Republicans may not be correct when they trumpet the old system as the best on the world, but their criticisms of Obamacare are already finding increasing resonance, and we haven’t even gotten to the point yet where it will be illegal not to have health insurance.

It doesn’t make sense to leave something as important as our healthcare system in the hands of for-profit corporations with the incentive to drive up costs. The New York Times has done some excellent work this year showing how US residents pay astronomically more for every procedure and drug than citizens of other countries. We should have all been suspicious when the insurance industry cooperated with enacting Obamacare and helped preclude a public option, leaving us with the insurance exchanges that have been so problematic.

There’s really only one remedy to this country’s ailing healthcare system, which we said at the time that Obamacare was being passed and we’ll repeat again now that there’s even more evidence supporting our position: We need socialized medicine in this country.

Conservatives who read that assertion are probably shaking their heads in disbelief right now, believing that Obamacare’s shortcomings prove that government can’t run a healthcare system. And the inexcusable technical problems with the federal healthcare.gov website and its related state exchanges unfortunately reinforce that view. But they’re wrong, and the single-payer advocates have been right all along, noting among other things that the government runs Medicare well and with far lower overhead than insurance companies.

The problems with Obamacare are similar to the problems it sought to address, and they stem from the fact that an insurance-based model is a terrible way to run a healthcare system. It’s too expensive and does too little to hold down medical costs, it’s confusing and stressful to people who are already wrestling with disease or injury, and it unjustly creates different standards of care for the rich and poor.

Socialized medicine — or a single-payer system, administered by either government or a private contractor, but paid for automatically through our taxes — works well in just about every other industrialized country, most of which are far less expensive and yet have better healthcare outcomes. A single-payer system could utilize the existing healthcare infrastructure, it would simply change how we pay for it and bring much-needed price controls and regulatory oversight.

Think about it: Healthcare coverage is something that every citizen needs in equal measure. We all need the right to see a doctor when we’re sick or injured. None of us should have to gamble with our health by weighing the cost of various monthly insurance premiums against our likelihood of ending up in the hospital. And it really shouldn’t be up to struggling small businesses to pay expensive health insurance premiums for their employees, even though that’s really the only way to make the fatally flawed insurance model work.

There’s infighting among congressional Democrats now about whether to roll back parts of Obamacare, such as hospital subsidies and whether to let people remain on minimal catastrophic coverage plans, and all that will do it upset the careful balance the plan tried to achieve to hold down long-term costs.

For now, we need to apply whatever bandages needed to stop the bleeding and limp the flawed Obamacare along for a little while. But we also need to immediately start the difficult work of transitioning to a socialized medicine system.