Photo: Austin Blackwell

It’s no secret that young people today (those born after Millennials, sometimes called Generation Z) are leading an extraordinary rise in activism, from March for Our Lives to the Sunrise Movement. To learn how art, media, and mentorship are empowering a new generation of creators and change-makers, SFUFF partnered with the Youth Art Exchange and Bay Area Video Coalition, inviting local youth filmmakers to show and discuss their work at [x]space in the Outer Mission.


Photo: Emma Marie Chiang

It felt a little bit like a hip party happening 20 years in the future.

Ethereal music, evoking whalesong, came from the stage, where a man in a VR headset had a joystick in each hand and was steering…something, like a pilot in an invisible cockpit. Next to him, the big screen showed a model of a city, made of pinpricks of light in vast blackness, which spread out like stars before a speeding spaceship. This was, one supposed, a mirror of what the pilot was seeing in his headset. One could only speculate about what a group of people in the wings were seeing in their headsets, as they took tentative steps or rotated…


Photo by James A. Casteñeda

“I have to warn you,” Jonathan Pacheco Bell told the audience gathered in SPUR, “there’s a part of this talk where I get choked up.” Bell was traveling around the country giving his presentation, and it had never once failed to make him emotional.

Bell has been a public sector urban planner in LA County for 12 years, and in his zoning enforcement work he’s seen it all, from garages plastered up and turned into dwellings, to a U-haul trailer converted into a home in a residential driveway. Informal housing exists everywhere in the developed world, and everywhere Bell saw…


Courtesy of Crisanto Street

It was Friday night, and though the air outside was heavy with smoke, inside the whitewashed brick walls of City Hope, the mood was light. The guests enjoyed snacks and mingled — perhaps they’d find themselves talking to one of the filmmakers, many of whom were present that evening. Then the festival’s director, Fay Darmawi, took the stage to present the last night (for now) of SF Urban Film Fest; the weekend’s events had to be postponed due to poor air quality caused by the devastating Camp Fire. The theme of the evening’s films was, poignantly, home and homelessness.


Courtesy of Not with Fire, But With Paint

Residents were encouraged to stay home that night — SF was facing some of the worst air conditions in its history — but a large crowd made its way to SFMOMA’s Public Knowledge Annex, an inviting library adjacent to the main lobby. It was the first time SF Urban Film Fest and SFMOMA collaborated, and the result was a cinematic tour of street art in Bogotá, Detroit, San Francisco, and Oakland — but the films were really about the stories behind the art. …


Courtesy of Redemption Square

“The city is changing every moment”: this is what inspires an urban photographer in Connection, one of the films drawn from SF Urban Film Fest’s new international call for submissions. We live in a world where our public spaces are constantly developing, or being “redeveloped.” And one person’s gain can be another’s loss — of utility, memory, and meaning. …


Courtesy of Futbolistas 4 Life

To Oakland soccer coach Dania Cabello, playing sports is an act of “joyful resistance,” an empowering expression of freedom and agency. And in rooting for a team, strangers can turn into friends. But despite the benefits, the economics of sports can divide communities into winners and losers. At the Roxie theater, SF Urban Film Fest presented a series of short films and a panel discussion about how sports can change cities, for better or worse. The big question of the night: how can local and professional sports level the playing field, and positively impact lower income populations?


Courtesy of The Maze

The room was full at SPUR for an evening of storytelling, at turns inspiring and infuriating, about infrastructure and its tendency to reinforce inequality. Concrete thinly veils the racist designs of Bay Area transportation projects from the mid-1900s, which sometimes literally demolished black communities — and not enough has changed. The current housing crisis is doing what all infrastructure problems do: holding up a mirror to our values. If we don’t like what we see, the message of the night was that we have to think hard, get involved, and make ourselves heard.

“People of courage and vision can find…


Courtesy of Women’s March Film

As footage of the 2017 Women’s March played on screen nearly two years later at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco, the audience laughed, snapped their fingers, and cheered. They were celebrating the women profiled by Women’s March Film, among them a Muslim refugee, a scientist, and an 88 year-old lifelong activist. They were celebrating the creative signs and costumes, and the moments of connection between strangers. “This is not a parade,” a speaker at the San Francisco march shouted, reflecting the crowd’s righteous anger. But there was so much joy too. …


Courtesy of The Life-Sized City: Tel Aviv

As the audience filed into the glass-walled theater room at SPUR, each person received a piece of paper with a question like “Where in the city do you feel most yourself?” or “How does the city hold you?” They could write answers to these prompts (to be collected and anonymously shared later), and as the lights went down, they could imagine each short film as an answer of sorts, sometimes subversive, often indirect.

Paige Schwartz

Writer and editor in San Francisco. Former PM @ Google.

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