Heidi Benson, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, October 10, 2008
When filmmaker Arturo Perez came to San Francisco in 2006, he had a
rose-tinted view of the Summer of Love. Today, his eyes are firmly
focused on the future.
It all began the day after graduation. Perez and two pals at the
University of Texas at Austin hopped in a VW bus and came West,
packing little more than a video camera. They had agreed to take a
year off to find out what had happened to the spirit of the '60s.
The result of their adventure is a coming-of-age film called "Where
Have All the Flowers Gone?" which premiered in August at the Wine
Country Film Festival. The film is viewable on the Web site
www.flowersthemovie.com and on YouTube, where it's gotten some 5,000 clicks.
The 70-minute film chronicles an odyssey, a search for the vitality
of the '60s and for models of positive change. In the process, the
filmmakers unexpectedly anticipate some of the main themes of this
year's presidential election.
"Something absolutely extraordinary is happening in America today,"
said Perez, 25, sitting at the broad kitchen table of his Inner
Richmond flat, where a poster of John Lennon's "Working Class Hero"
looms like a benevolent icon.
Today, legions of young people have become politically engaged. "But
we can't just talk about it," Perez said. "We have to vote."
His only fear? That some young people, more comfortable in front of a
screen than in a voting booth, won't show up at the polls on Nov. 4.
"A couple of mouseclicks can make you feel like you did something,"
he said, alluding to making online donations and following political
blogs. "You can't change the world online. You can help a movement
grow, but you can't turn the switch."
In that spirit, the film's Web site features "Get Active" links, so
viewers can watch the movie, then volunteer to work for a candidate,
contact U.S. legislators, even register to vote. Next week, Perez is
carpooling to Nevada to canvass for Barack Obama.
But the political mood was quite different when he and his chums,
Bill Troy and Joel Sadler, arrived in San Francisco two years ago.
"We went to anything we could put our camera on, big or small," Perez
said. "We didn't want to miss anything."
At first, they were disappointed. "Cynicism was high," he recalled.
"The war in Iraq was going badly, and few people were protesting."
They filmed it all, including a sparsely attended anniversary
celebration of the Human Be-In, and an apathetic UC-Berkeley student
who said, "the war has been going on long enough for me to forget about it."
Eventually, the film's outlook grows brighter, particularly when
Perez and company meet the Raging Grandmas of Santa Cruz, fresh from
an anti-war protest.
"They're making cupcakes and talking about getting arrested the week
before," Perez says. "I couldn't stop laughing, which is hard with a
camera in your hand." From the Grandmas, he said, "we learned that
people are more likely to listen to you if you make them laugh."
They ventured to Lafayette, where they met the mothers of soldiers
killed in Iraq and Afghanistan as they worked on the installation of
white crosses on a hillside along Highway 24 that was begun by
activist Jeff Heaton to show the human cost of the conflict. That
taught them something indelible, too: "We can hate this war, but we
must honor the soldiers."
The film - subtitled "If You Had One Year, Could You Change the
World?" - has the DIY quality of a video memoir, tracking the antics
of three optimistic young would-be activists who even find
themselves, for a short time, homeless on the streets of San
Francisco. As their story evolves, they find kindred spirits and
inspiration - if not exactly what they thought they were looking for.
(Today, Troy is in law school at the University of Wisconsin at
Madison, Sadler is looking for a job in San Mateo and Perez works for
a SoMa video-production firm.)
A countercultural view comes naturally to the charismatic Perez, who
was born in Mexico City, where his father was an activist during the
violent 1968 student rebellion there. His mother, though not an
activist, "turned me on to politics," he said. The family left Mexico
when Perez was 8, becoming Canadian citizens, though they didn't
speak English or know a soul in Canada.
"We were at Burger King in Ottawa and I remember my dad saying, with
tears in his eyes, 'We're going to work harder than anybody and we're
going to make it,' " Perez recalled.
"I want to show my parents that it was all worth it," he said. "I
can't write them the next Great American Novel, but I can show them
this film. It's for them."
To watch "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" go to www.flowersthemovie.com.
E-mail Heidi Benson at email@example.com.