SF Urban Film Fest
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SF Urban Film Fest

Storytelling Workshop: Creating Anti-Displacement Campaigns

Written by Nix Guirre & Fay Darmawi

Photo by South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN)

Multigenerational. Families. Community.

Those are the words that kept coming up during the SF Urban Film Fest’s (SFUFF) Level 2 storytelling workshop produced in collaboration with SOMA Pilipinas Cultural Heritage District (SOMA Pilipinas). SOMA Pilipinas was established as a cultural heritage district in 2016, an official designation recognized by the City of San Francisco and the state of California. The formation of the SOMA Pilipinas came out of a coalition of residents, small businesses, and nonprofits fighting displacement and gentrification in the South of Market (SOMA). Each cultural district is required to create a 3-year strategic plan called the CHHESS, which stands for Cultural Heritage, Housing and Economic Sustainability Strategies, that must be ratified by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The CHHESS for SOMA Pilipinas outlines strategies for increasing affordable housing, cultural spaces, and economic development, among others.

Fay Darmawi, SFUFF’s Founder and Executive Director and Keith Battle, Media Maker and Educator at the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC), kicked off the workshop with a brief overview of the four components of story structure, which was covered in detail in the Level 1 storytelling workshop earlier that same afternoon. The stage was quickly turned over to David Woo, Land Use Analyst at SOMA Pilipinas.

David’s desired outcome for the storytelling workshops was to come away with video ideas that:

  • Introduce SOMA Pilipinas as a cultural district, since a lot of people are still not aware there’s a Filipino heritage cultural district in San Francisco;
  • Provide a basic introduction to the CHHESS planning process; and
  • Support one critical strategy outlined in the CHHESS focusing on anti-displacement given the ongoing threats of gentrification that Filipino-American families continue to face in SOMA.

After the overview, the participants were divided into small groups and led into Zoom breakout rooms. Each group was assigned a professional storyteller and a community member representing SOMA Pilipinas to make sure the stories were grounded in community needs. This year’s storyteller leads were Ken Fisher (documentary filmmaker), Deana Mitchell (filmmaker), Leah Nichols (urban designer/filmmaker), Serginho Roosblad (documentary filmmaker), and Avni Shah (architect/ and filmmaker).

The small groups had approximately one hour to brainstorm and storyboard. Then each group gave a 2-minute pitch of their story to the rest of the cohort. Finally, David had one minute to decide the winner! Before we tell you the winner, we will summarize each group’s pitch and let you decide.

The storyboard ideas were wide-ranging storylines but all shared the common themes of celebrating and investing in Filipino culture and businesses that continue to thrive in SOMA. The following are a few of the stories that were pitched that day:

  • Told from the point of view of a young Filipono middle school student who dreams of a safe and joyous neighborhood that surrounds his middle school Bessie Carmichael, a video celebrating Manalo Draves Park, the Mint Mall and Filipino stores and restaurants.
  • An intergenerational story inspired by the struggle in the 1970s to save the I-Hotel in Manilatown and how in the present day, youth and elders are supporting each other in fighting for more affordable housing and other essential services.
  • A close-up personal story of a young Filipinx and their multigenerational family living in a small studio apartment in Mint Mall, a landing pad for many generations of Filipinos making the Bay Area their new home. When gentrification threatens to erase this place, and they see a dystopian future looming ahead, they join the community organizing efforts to stop it.
  • Inspired by the popular video game Zelda, Filipino-American techie main character is on a quest to find a Filipino snack in the tech-dominated SOMA and soon realizes there is a surviving Filipino community amidst the gentrified neighborhood. Because of this, the main character decides to get involved with SOMA Pilipinas to fight for affordable housing.
  • A docu-series that follows the lives of Filipino families in several small apartment buildings in SOMA to support SOMA Pilipinas’ small sites acquisition strategy. Each episode would tell the story of the neighborhood through the personal stories of the people who lived there. The goal would be to establish the vibrant and historic identity of the area through multiple viewpoints, catering to diverse audiences, to build support for the establishment of the cultural district.

And when it was time for David Woo to pick a winner, he said he liked all of the ideas, especially the recurring themes of multigenerational community struggles. But the winning pitch was the docu-series which would weave history, personal stories, while simultaneously supporting SOMA Pilipinas’s anti-displacement and tenant protection strategies including acquiring small apartment buildings in SOMA.

This event took place on February 13, 2020. For more information about SF Urban Film Fest or to inquire about a workshop for your organization please write us a note.



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