SF’s Secret Ghetto
Kevin Epps’ Straight Outta Hunter’s Point explores the roots and travails of his eighborhood.
Thursday, February 17, 2005
Being from the East Coast, I have always felt that San Francisco was a fairly non-threatening city. Sure, I walk fast through sections of the Tenderloin and the Fillmore, but I have never felt scared for my life in San Francisco like I have in Washington DC or New York City.
Then again, I have never been to Hunter’s Point. In his eye-opening documentary Straight Outta Hunter’s Point, first-time filmmaker Kevin Epps more than adequately shows viewers what it feels like to be in the neglected slums of this neighborhood located in southeastern San Francisco.
The 84-minute documentary shows real footage of the neighborhood’s mostly African-American residents struggling to survive in an urban wasteland reminiscent of a third-world country, interspersed with news segments about the escalating violence between two rap gangs known as the West Point Mob and the Big Block Gang. Throughout the course of the film, Epps has amazing access to the area’s residents, talking with everyone from drug dealers to the policemen that seem to be constantly cruising the streets.
Epps’ film attempts to find out why so much violence is happening in Hunter’s Point—100 shootings occurred during the making of his movie.
“I just wanted to shine some light on and get some dialogue going on the underlying issues,” the filmmaker said in a telephone interview last week.
It turns out that Epps is able to uncover some fairly impressive contributors to his neighborhood’s urban blight. One problem is that there is a severe shortage of locally owned businesses hiring Hunter’s Point residents. Another factor is a truly contaminated landscape, poisoned by PG&E’s most polluting power plant in the state and a Navy Shipyard’s toxic landfill that is now a Superfund site.
Epps says initially he had a very simple goal for his first movie.
“I just wanted to tell a story about my community from the inside,” he says.
With the success of Straight Outta Hunter’s Point—the film won the Best Documentary Award at the 2003 Pan African Film Festival, and a 2001 San Francisco Bay Guardian Goldie Award for Film—Epps has been encouraged to tell more stories. (Also, there are several publications, including the East Bay Express, that believe Spike Lee’s short-lived Showtime series Sucker Free City “owes more than a little debt to Straight Outta Hunter’s Point.”)
Later this year, Epps will release a new documentary titled Rap Dreams. The filmmaker describes the work as a film “sort of like Hoop Dreams” that follows three up-and-coming Bay Area rap artists: Kev Kelly, Hectic and Mr. Fab. In addition, Epps is finishing work on The Black Rock, a film about the black convicts on Alcatraz who resided in a segregated cellblock.
Epps says he is also a co-founder of the traveling Hip Hop Film Fest with fellow directors Kevin Fitzgerald (Freestyle: Art of Rhyme) and Todd Hickey (The Living Legends Tour Documentary). The festival has been to about 40 cities around the world, including New York City and Amsterdam.