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Local films hit the walls of North Oakland

on June 15, 2009

About 200 people braved the chilly summer evening and brought their lawn chairs, dogs and sleeping bags to 49th and Telegraph on Thursday night, for the kick-off of the second annual opening of the Temescal Street Cinema series.

The event started off small.  At 8 p.m. several empty plastic chairs were set up facing a brick wall and the popcorn popper wasn’t working properly.  A couple, draped in blankets, ate take-out Mexican food and waited patiently for the sky to darken.

bandknowclueAs a band set up, more people rolled in off the street.  A knitting group gathered along the curb.  The band, Know Clue, covered several well-known rock and grunge songs with energy and aplomb.  The audience yelled for more.  They were particularly impressive because none were over 14.

“I think it’s really cool that they show documentary pieces that are important to the community,” said Lauren Fine, an employee of Highland Hospital and one of the first to arrive.

The film of the evening was Speaking in Tongues, an engrossing hour-long documentary about bilingual education in America today. It was projected onto the brick wall of the Bank of the West building at 49th and Telegraph and was preceded by several shorts by Oakland Children’s Hospital patients, a project organized by BayKids, a San Francisco-based nonprofit.

goodpopcornIn between sips of free Hansen’s soda and handfuls of fresh popcorn, the crowd applauded enthusiastically, or wrapped blankets around their shoulders to ward off the cold.  Many lingered afterwards for the Q and A with the filmmakers, Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider, a San Francisco couple.

One of the highlights of the evening was when the filmmakers’ son, an unassuming–looking middle-school student, introduced the film in perfect-sounding Mandarin.  He has attended a Chinese immersion school for nine years.

Speaking In Tongues begins by turning a satirical eye on ‘English only’ advocates, who dance and sing their way through YouTube clips and extol the virtues of a monolingual education system.  The meat of the film showcases the trials and tribulations of children – and parents – as they make the choice to engage in schools where other languages – such as Spanish and Cantonese – are taught from day one.

The children are easily the most convincing argument for bilingual education.  During the film, a young African American boy shatters stereotypes by engaging in casual conversation in Mandarin at the mall; a sixth grader learns about cooking from her grandmother in a tongue her parents had long forgotten.

The series showcases locally produced cinema and will continue through the summer.

“It’s to promote the neighborhood and also to make it safer,” said Darlene Drapkin, Director of the Temescal Business Improvement District. Her organization put on the free event to convey to people that Temescal is “a hip place to live and play,” she added.  The project was conceived by a Temescal resident, Suzanne L’Heureux.

Sharon Jue and Jamila Dunn

Sharon Jue and Jamila Dunn

“This is really a pretty exciting neighborhood.  It’s the most affordable and up and coming neighborhood in Oakland.  There’s a really strong community spirit,” said Sharon Jue, an Arts Administrator at the Kala institute in Berkeley, who had come to see the film with friends.

Arne Johnson, the Art Director of the event and director of Girls Rock, a movie screened last year, called the experience phenomenal.  “For me, it’s about returning movies to the basics,” he said. “People getting together for entertainment and community bonding, a shared experience.  When movies are shared they’re at their best.”

Last year the project averaged about 300-400 people per film screening and they expect a large turn-out this year as well.

The remaining films in the series will be shown every Thursday evening beginning around 8:30 at the same location, until July 16.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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