Mar 28, 2017
Please contact us
or breaking news
SF Filmmaker Explores Garbage and Activism
by Rachel Caplan
Soumyaa Kapil Behrens, director of 'My Garbage, My Neighborhood.' photo: S. K. Behrens
When is recycling bad? When garbage and neighbors don’t mix.
For Soumyaa Kapil Behrens, director of a new film about a controversial recycling center (
) in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, these complex local issues drove her to explore a larger discussion. In December, an eviction notice was served to HANC, compelling Behrens to use the existing footage from her work-in-progress documentary “
My Garbage, My Neighborhood
” as a tool for opening community debate.
“It’s crucial that the film can generate an open discussion and not point fingers," Behrens says of the conflicting opinions. "The aim is to find various entry points to the debate and film can help do that. The reaction so far has been tremendous with many people who haven’t been involved before now actively sharing in the process.”
“My Garbage, My Neighborhood” screens on March 5 at 1:00pm as part of the first
San Francisco Green Film Festival
with panel discussion after.
Behrens set out in 2008 to make a film about the HANC and its benefits to those who work and participate there but she had no notion that an eviction notice was pending. She had been working on a photography project which used "found objects." Along the way, she also encountered “found people” who where picking through the same garbage—albeit with a very different purpose.
Curious, Behrens uncovered their stories and the little-known controversy behind their actions. It ignited in her a sense of social injustice and led her to the heart of the controversy. At the HANC Recycling Center in Golden Gate Park, she uncovered a local story that needs to be told. Although we all want to be "green" and recycle, there is huge disagreement over how and where this should be achieved. Over the course of filming for several years, Behrens built relationships with the various players involved, allowing her access to heated local government and community meetings.
In December 2010, outgoing Mayor Newsom decided to close the HANC Recycling Center and served an eviction notice, which broke the story wide open for Behrens, bringing new drama and purpose. Behrens is using the existing footage of “My Garbage, My Neighborhood” to tackle gnarly issues and community outreach head-on.
“The film now has a different end point in sight—either the closing of the Recycling Center on March 3rd and physical restructuring of the area, or a reversal decision to keep it open," Behrens told me. "Either way, there are ten green jobs on the line with the people that currently work at the Center and I’ll continue to document how this political struggle is affecting their personal lives.”
As the Mayor has left in the middle of the eviction process with no clear directive, Behrens is using the film to generate dialogue and advocacy before the final Board of Supervisors decision is made. She planned a series of community-building screenings and panel discussions to take place ahead of the February 14th Board meeting that will decide the fate of the Center. She intends that these screenings inform and energize the community and that local activists learn more about the complexity surrounding the decision to close the Center.
“It’s important that we have a public space to discuss these issues and how we represent them to the world.” says Behrens “We need to look at recycling and what it does and what it means. This discussion isn’t going on.”
In addition to using the film as a catalyst for community meetings and discussion, Behrens offers other practical tools for locals to get involved. The film’s blog includes monthly video updates on the Center and links to other up-to-the-minute information. Her team launched a social media campaign ahead of the December eviction notice and works with HANC to elevate their policy campaign through viral means along with traditional grass-roots actions.
She will be testifying on February 14th to her experience filming in the center and address the demographic it serves. Although the center met with interim mayor Ed Lee and feels hopeful, the future will be an uphill battle and they encourage everyone to write to the mayor and local supervisors about it.
Behrens has a background in film and media, including an MFA in cinema production from San Francisco State University where she now occasionally lectures on production and critical theory. To help support the production of “My Garbage, My Neighborhood,” she enrolled in the Media Incubation Program at the Ninth Street Independent Film Center last summer, joining a group of other individuals incubating projects and a host of well-established media organizations.
“Filmmaking can be a very solo act at times and it’s great to be inspired by the diverse film community here at Ninth Street,” says Behrens. Funding for the film has been tough in the current economy, although Behrens has won several small scholarships and has fiscal sponsorship from the San Francisco Film Society. She continues to look for support to complete the project. Donate to her project here, through the fiscal sponsorship program at the San Francisco Film Society.
For Behrens, the unexpected eviction of the HANC Recycling Center has brought her film to a larger social level and exposed a key unresolved problem lurking beneath our city’s green persona.
“It’s now really about issues of sharing public space, how we deal with the process of these policies, and how they effect people one-bottle-and-can at a time," says Behrens, "It’s about understanding the structure of our urban life.”
Rachel Caplan is the founder and director of the San Francisco Green Film Festival.
Posted on Feb 23, 2011 - 11:46 PM