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Oakland’s Filmmaking Family
by Doniphan Blair
The Oakland FIlm Photo First Row (lft-rt): Sydney Styles (kid), Ashley James, Kathryn Golden, George Csicsery, Jasmene Miranda, north star jacket guy (name missing, sorry), Ami Zins (Oakland Film Office), Farah Dews, Judith Smith (foot on tripod), Jerome Lawrence, Samm Styles, Gabriel Valencia
2nd/3rd Row: Yoram Savion (cap), Teddra Young (3rd) Theo Williams (straw hat), Kirby Dominant, Shaka Redmond, Charles Johnson, James Rocafella
4th Row: Gary Lane (hat), Neena Joiner, Rick Butler, Shakti Butler, Kat (last name missing, sorry), Kymm Wilson
5th Row: Chris Wilson (giants hat), Kevin Epps, guy with blue hat (no name, apologies), David Roach, Floyd Hill (clapping hands)
6th Row: Lathan Hodge, Adimu Madyun, Shomari Smith (hat), Isaac Escobedo (shades), Taylor Wansly, Lamar Allen
Top Row: Dedoceo Habi, Benjamin Mulholland, Shay Boogie, Rams Head, William Hammons, Roy Miles (making hand gesture), James Calhoun photo: CineSource
Samm Styles, a director/writer/producer, believes Oakland has quite a community of filmmakers. From seasoned professionals, who work at Pixar, to DIY-er homies, out of East Oakland, many of whom he knows himself, he loves their pluck with limited resources, how they are always helping each other out, and the mother hen ministering of Oakland Film Commissioner Ami Zins.
Styles just wrapped his third feature, "Milk Money," about a young man struggling to survive in 2030. He has directed almost 150 music videos, from Keisha Cole to Too Short and Mary J. Blige, and many commercials, and mentors film students at Oakland's Skyline High School. He also happens to have on his wall the "Harlem Jazz Portrait," Art Kane's 1958 shot of a 57 black musicians on a NY stoop.
So it came to pass, on a sunny day in June, he called the city cine community to the steps of a Preservation Park Victorian. Forty-two made it, a hecka Oakland talent by any measure (please excuse this partial listing):
• Ashley James (Row 1, #2): director of KTOP, Oakland's city TV station and a long time doc maker, out of SFAI, who just got back from Cuba shooting a piece for Eugene Carr about an Oakland Little League team playing there.
• Kathryn Golden (Row 1, #3): director/editor; just made "Moments of Illumination" about filmmaker Lawrence Jordan (p14), her first for the Dutch-based Buddhist Broadcasting Foundation. The second, "Path of Zenju Earthlyn Manuel," on an African American Buddhist woman priest, will be released in September.
• George Csicsery (Row 1, #4): a prolific documentarian, from Hungary, whose specialty is math docs but has made films about pirates, prostitutes and even the Oakland police, "The Thursday Club" (2005). In it, he sought to understand them, even though Csicsery had his head busted during a '60s Oakland protest.
• Yoram Savion (Row 2, #1): maker of award-winning short "Golly the Rainmaker" and media teacher at E. Oakland's Youth UpRising.
• Shaka Redmond (Row 3, #3): cinematographer of some sensuous music and dramatic videos like "Runaway Love."
• Rick Butler (Row 4, #3): Out of Stanford, has shot absolutely everything from broadcast television - winning Emmies - to personal docs and Pixar's "making of" movies. He is currently doing a documentary on his friend, Van "Mr. Obama Cabinet-Green Jobs" Jones.
• Shakti Butler (Row 4, #4): Rick's wife and an educator; her films on race and healing, like "Mirrors of Priviledge: Making Whiteness Visible," are used in schools nationally.
• Kevin Epps (Row 5, #2): Music video director, made "Straight Outta Hunters Point" (2001), the tough SF neighborhood where he is from; organized the Hip Hop Film Festival.
• David Roach (Row 5, #3): hard working director of the Oakland International Film Fest.
• Adimu Madyun (Row 6, #2, in all white): Out of East Oakland, teaches nonviolence to children, made the notable "Operation Small Axe" doc about the Oscar Grant tragedy.
• Taylor Wansly (Row 6, #5): Music video director and cinematographer.
• Isaac Escobedo (Row 6, #4): Director of the edgy short "Guilt" (2006), who claims, "I just want to make films and eat."
• Ben Mulholland (Top row, #2): Made "Pennies for the Juggernaut," a Web series, part thriller/part political statement, for $1,500.
Of course, many filmmakers could not make the mid-day/mid-week shoot. Some CineSource has covered: Carmen Madden, director of the accomplished feature "Everyday Black Man," about family secrets and smooth talking drug dealers; Lisbon Okafore, working on his second feature "Oakville," about interracial couples; Mateen Kemet, who did "Oakland B-Mine," soon to grace Oakland airport's "media wall;" or Jaylani Roberts, an ambitious DIY-er, who is completing her second feature "Mercury's Rule," about Oakland coke kingpins. Plus, there are some neither at the "Film Portrait" nor in CineSource, notably Deborah Hoffmann and Frances Reid, makers of the Oscar-nominated "Long Night's Journey into Day," on truth and reconciliation in South Africa.
Feature Filmmaker Samm Styles, who organized the shoot, confers with photog Andre Davis. photo: CineSource
There's one thing on which Oakland cineastes agree: "Working with the Film Commission has been fine," Styles said. "Ami [Zins] and I go back to 1999. For 'Milk Money,' we shot right in city hall. She set it all up, they let us in and we shot away. Whenever shooting in Oakland, always get a permit from Ami, in case the police come by or whatever."
How about dealing with locals? "Get a producer from the neighborhood," says Styles, who is from East Oakland, 98th Avenue. "Someone who can communicate and be honest. That way the neighbors know what's going on and that you're not coming to take advantage of them."
Can films make a difference in Oakland? "Yes, each genre of film, whether documentary, drama, or even comedy, can speak about what is going on between the police department and the citizens. Artists must speak for those who can't. There is so much emotion right now - not hatred but the desire to make a point. The artist must be the vehicle to put so much emotion on the page, or canvas, or screen."
How about making films about pimps or drug dealers? "Films that show those things, must show the solution, too. That is the purpose of film, to show a time and how it effects us, so we don't repeat history. What was the mind frame of the individual selling drugs to their own people, and why are these people taking drugs? It matters, it is history, but after that, we need to show what we are doing now. There's a place for these films, because of artistic freedom, but let's not show only these types of pictures."
"I think it is more of an indicator that this a breakdown of society," Shakti Butler interjected. "You know, the cultural chickens coming home to roost - structural issues. We are always trying to get down to finding whose fault it is. Personalizing it is something we can understand, but it is something else. The system, in so many ways, victimizes young people."
"The narrative is the big one," chimed in husband Rick, who knows, having worked at Pixar (see p2). "What is interesting about this life is who controls the narrative, controls our lives. I don't know if I have the answer. In general, we as individuals don't control what is being presented to us through media. Media is the vessel, we are being told what to want, what to strive for, how to live. Hence, we are having a hard time as a society controlling our values. That manifests as senselessness: senseless violence , senseless greed, senseless fear. We are pretty jacked up, if you think about it."
"But stay tuned for the renaissance," Styles responds. "There is a movement out there that is going very visual. I have spoken to a lot of filmmakers. We have YouTube, Facebook, and other things now, to show all types of work. All these cats have taken it upon themselves to show what is going on, the image of the oppressed, that is what is being worked on right now. And it may prove fantastic!"
Posted on Aug 13, 2010 - 02:37 AM