An estimated 125 Emeryville residents and neighbors turned out on Sunday to watch a documentary that directly intersected their own lives. The documentary featured familiar locations in West Oakland and Emeryville including Pixar, City Hall, Pet Club and Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe as it followed the lives of several recognizable individuals experiencing homelessness in our community. The film documented how they subsist off of the meager earnings from scavenged recyclables redeemed at nearby Alliance Recycling.
One of the central figures of the film was Hayok “Miss Kay” who died last year after an assault in front of CVS on San Pablo Avenue. Her tragic story touches on her Korean family history, her loss of a longtime companion and attempts to survive on the streets while battling addiction and mental illness. “It was hard to see Miss Kay homeless in Emeryville” noted Director Amir Soltani who was on hand to introduce the film and pay tribute to Kay. “It was hard to see her suffering in the midst of plenty, lonely in the midst of people, lost among us. And ultimately killed in our streets, in our neighborhood.”
Soltani fielded questions from the audience afterward and touched on the challenges of a subject matter that took seven years of his own life. “The greatest challenge you face as a filmmaker is not making your film. It is sharing it. Art comes to life through community. It turns into action through community. Not politics, community. We face complex challenges, and so we need to approach problems by drawing on the love and experience, the resources and good will around us.”
Emeryville City Council candidate John Bauters, who co-sponsored the event along with The E’ville Eye, is a longtime advocate for issues of these experiencing homelessness and has made dealing with our current housing crisis a central platform of his campaign. “The film explored important issues that challenged viewers to reevaluate the role of government in confronting our homelessness and housing crises. Having worked on solutions to homelessness for over a decade, I am immensely grateful to Amir for using his incredible talent to give dignity to people whose current life situation is often the product of having experienced significant trauma.”
Soltani noted he had 100’s of hours of unused footage and the lack of closure with the subjects of the film and pending closure of Alliance Recycling could necessitate a follow-up or even sequel.
Attendees afterward were confronted with a heightened awareness of those often scorned by society. “The movie was extremely thought-provoking” noted Park Avenue resident Donna Briskin. “I can’t say I landed on a solution, but I certainly came away with much more of a sense of the humanity of the homeless population and the need to treat them as individual human beings.”
“The movie raises vexing questions about people experiencing homelessness, extreme poverty, and a local business creating a nuisance in the neighborhood” noted outgoing Councilmember Ruth Atkin who was in attendance along with Councilmember Donahue. “These issues know no boundaries and I welcome the opportunity the viewing provided to discuss these issues.”
“The evening, movie and Q&A opened my eyes to my own prejudices about recyclers” added attendee and E’ville Eye Contributor Michelle Mendieta Mitchell who recounted meeting Landon Goodwin one of the subjects of the film. “Seeing him on the big screen was surreal. Hearing his story and his genuine desire for a different way of life — I can only describe it as having my heart broken open.”
“I thought it was a great opportunity to see a very good film about issues concerning poverty and homelessness in the community we live in” added Park Avenue District Neighbor Jack Ghizzoni. “I was struck by the director’s sincerity and devotion to the topic and the people whose stories he presented. Seeing him speak after the film really added to the experience.”
Bauters, sporting his trademark bow tie, was clearly appreciative of the outcome of the evening. “This event was only possible through the generous support of Bay Street and AMC Theaters, whose assistance made the evening seamless for everyone. I would also like to express my sincerest appreciation to everyone who attended – whether you came to learn, to listen, to ask or to share, our community is stronger when we solve our problems together”
The venue was the largest theater to host a screening according to Soltani. “I thank the E’ville Eye and the John Bauters campaign for bringing this important documentary to the public’s viewing” added Councilmember Atkin. “To know that our community can face the challenges, can grow through pain, can learn through loss, that is precious” added Soltani “That was what Rob & John summoned and what the audience at AMC offered us. And for that gift, I’m deeply grateful. Now to take the next steps.”
The event was sponsored by The E’ville Eye and Bauters for Emeryville City Council, facilitated by Bay Street General Manager Jen Nettles with coordination provided by AMC General Manager Jason Pollock.