“Oakland B Mine”: an Oakland love story
on April 7, 2011
Starting Thursday night at venues across the city, this year’s Oakland International Film Festival is bringing a diverse selection of film making talent to the East Bay. The festival, which runs through April 14 and is in its ninth year, offers a home to films of every ilk and size, many of which deal with profound, globally relatable ideas.
“A major theme this year is our environment,” said festival founder and director David Roach. “Of course we all share Mother Earth, but there is also the human environment and the emergence of urban communities.”
In “Story of Sacred Mountain,” a small tribe in India tries to defend a nearby mountain from a corporate mining company. “Gang Girl” touches on a mother’s struggle to protect her daughter in a world where young women are increasingly targeted by gang recruiters. “David and Kamal” looks at the friendship between two young boys in Jerusalem, and the politically contrived wall that divides them.
For locals, however, one film in particular will strike a chord in its examination of a community and an urban landscape. “Oakland B Mine,” by filmmaker Mateen Kemet, is a 28-minute, dialogue-free love story that takes place at dozens of places in and around Oakland. It’s a story of love at first sight, a story of boy meets girl.
“It’s a narrative, one full story, but the story takes us through the entire city,” said Kemet of his film. “There are 49 locations in the film—I shot in a lot of places all over the city. There’s a man, known simply as the traveler, and he sees a lady named Oakland, a siren-like woman in the airport. She has an alluring nature, and gets him to follow her throughout the city.” Oakland native Erinn Anova plays the part of the siren Oakland, and Oakland actor Anthony Haynes plays the traveler.
If this plot sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because many traveling Oaklanders have had a sneak preview. The film is screened on loop, along with a few other video installations, on two connected 25-foot screens at Terminal 2 baggage claim in Oakland International Airport.
In April, 2002, the Port of Oakland voted to set aside funding for a Public Art Ordinance, and began commissioning artwork in several disciplines, including visual, performance, literary and media art. In 2005, Kemet answered the port’s public call to artists, and submitted his proposal for “Oakland B Mine,” which was accepted. Along with five other artists, his work now plays on loop all day long on the airport wall.
The Oakland Museum of California was brought on board to act as the port’s curatorial arm, helping organize and display the commissioned art. Now, the museum’s professional services staff develop and install exhibitions at the airport in Terminal 1, the walkway between Terminals 1 and 2, and in the newly renovated area of Terminal 2, which Kemet’s film calls home. When “Oakland B Mine” is shown at the airport, it is completely silent, but during the film festival it will be accompanied by a soundtrack and a voiceover. Kemet, who has made silent films before, made the film without dialogue so it could be fully appreciated in a setting like the airport.
Kemet—who was raised in the Bronx, New York—lived in Oakland for several years after attending San Francisco State University, and said his goal was to draw attention to the city’s overlooked beauty. “All you ever see of Oakland is 98th and International on the news,” said Kemet. “You see some guy with his hands behind his neck being cuffed. Oakland has that element, but it’s so many other things.”
Kemet said he started by thinking about Oakland images that are in some way antithetical to the crime scene on the news. “I thought of Joaquin Miller Park, which is a redwood forest,” said Kemet. “No one would ever know there is redwood forest in the middle of Oakland. From there, I went to Chabot Observatory, Rockridge, and Lakeshore. I made sure to capture the bustle of Fruitvale, and the vibe and the soul that is West Oakland.”
Kemet’s crew was the first to film inside the renovated Fox Theater, and visited Esther’s Orbit Room, one of the great jazz clubs of Oakland’s famed 7th Street corridor. The club is now closed, but in the past had hosted artists like Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane and Aretha Franklin. Esther Mabry, who owned the club for over 70 years, died shortly after Kemet met her.
Film festival founder David Roach, a native Oaklander, said the movie is a treat for city residents and visitors alike. “It really highlights Oakland. If you weren’t from here, you’d say, ‘We’re looking at a beautiful place,’” Roach said. “It’s fun to watch it being from here too—it’s filled with romance for us.”
Roach also praised the collaboration between the port and museum, and said that creating a supportive, cohesive community is part of his goal with the film festival—he hopes this year’s festival will garner exposure for participating venues and artists. He also wants to put Oakland on the proverbial film festival map by one day offering prizes.
For now, though, the festival’s focus is on showcasing filmmakers and their work, particularly the Oakland-centric like Kemet, who feels that he’s giving back to the city through his art. “Oakland is an understated place, and I really wanted to cover its real beauty,” said Kemet. “That was my purpose.”
“Oakland B Mine” is playing Friday and Saturday nights. For details on locations and ticketing for this movie and others, visit OIFF.org.
Lead image: Filmmaker Mateen Kemet works on “Oakland B Mine.” The film will be screened as part of the Oakland International Film Festival this weekend. Photo courtesy of OMCA.
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