“First Friday,” picture of a changing Oakland
on July 5, 2013
A monthly art walk is an unlikely place for a shooting, but in Oakland last February, that wasn’t the case. After a man’s death at First Friday, where art lovers crowd the sidewalks and often enjoy food and wine at local galleries, two filmmakers decided to make a movie about the gathering in hopes of starting a dialogue about Oakland’s many facets.
One the one hand, it’s a city recently listed by The New York Times as one of America’s top five places to visit, but it’s also the third-most violent city in the country — with 130 murders in 2012, according to the FBI.
“People only see one thing of Oakland, but we want to produce something that’s more than what you see on the news,” says N’Jeri Eaton, one of the filmmakers.
“First Friday” takes a look at how the event went from being a small art gathering to a citywide fest that attracts nearly 20,000 people each month — where Kiante Campbell, 18, was shot and killed after getting into a confrontation with members of another group. Three others were wounded.
After the February shooting, the event that once stretched from 14th to 27th streets has been scaled back to a smaller area — from 27th Street to West Grand Avenue. It also ends at 9 p.m., two hours earlier than before.
Eaton is no stranger to tackling crime stories. She produced a film that looked at the 2009 killing of four police officers from the perspective of the shooter, Lovelle Mixon. The film showed how the community felt the shooter was justified because of tension with the city’s police department.
For “First Friday,” Eaton teamed up with Mario Furloni, whom she met at U.C. Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism a few years ago. Rather than looking into the murder or the investigation, the filmmakers hope to spark a conversation about the issues facing Oakland.
Furloni says that the film follows a diverse group of people who are working to preserve an event that has become a reflection of the city’s cultural and economic realities.
First Friday organizers are facing tough financial problems, and the future of the event is uncertain. In June, Oakland officials gave organizers the last chunk of public funding they’ll get from the city. Although that money covers the costs of the July 5 event, it’s unclear what will happen after that. Organizers must find ways to pay for private security to secure future events.
Eaton believes organizers are still trying to find the right balance of safety and control without watering down the event.
The film was shot a week before the March First Friday. Eaton says shrines and other memorabilia were still on the streets, paying homage to the shooting victim.
Eaton says she was inspired by the new movie “Fruitvale Station,” which uses the story of Oscar Grant, a man shot by BART police in 2009, to tell a deeper story about the people and the community of Oakland.
“The movie has opened up a dialogue about Oakland, and I hope our movie does the same,” Eaton said.
The movie is scheduled for release next year. Until then, Eaton and Furloni are working extensively to finish it. In August, a fundraiser for the film will be held at Somar Bar in Oakland. For more information, visit the website.
Photo: An image from “First Friday,” a documentary by N’Jeri Eaton and Mario Furloni.
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