San Francisco filmmaker Micha X. Peled answered questions yesterday after an East Bay screening of his recently releasedï¿½and widely heralded ï¿½ documentary China Blue, which gives a glimpse into the lives of several teenage girls who earn about six cents an hour making blue jeans for Western retailers including Wal-Mart.
The four dozen peopleï¿½primarily senior citizens, as the screening was held at 10am at the JCC in Walnut Creekï¿½seemed most curious to know how Peled got such incredible access to a factory. Many film critics and Peled himself have played up the notion that the film was, as described in a blurb on his Web site, "shot clandestinely." And although he didn't have governmental permission to shoot the film, Peled did have full in-and-out access to the factory itselfï¿½ access won by appealing to the ego of the owner, who had no idea Peled was out to document human rights violations. "I told Mr. Lam [the owner] that I'd make a film about him," Peled said, explaining that Guo Xi Lam, a former police chief in the Pearl River Delta factory city, was very proud of his burgeoning company. The ruse worked like a charm, and the owner told all of his workers to cooperate with the film crew.
Chinese authorities, however, weren't so understanding. In the course of the three-year project, police frequently harassed Peled's team. (The film's original protagonist dropped out after police warned the girl and her family that they'd get in "big trouble" if they participated in an American-made film.) When Peled sensed Lam growing antsy, the filmmaker pieced together a five-minute PR video rife with cheerful workers to appease the factory owner and encourage his continued cooperation. (The video, said Peled, was met with cheers and applause by when Lam played it at the company's annual anniversary party.)
The kiss-ass video wasn't the only ethically shaky tool Peled employed to get the story that, without question, deserved to be told. He said Wednesday that he paid the main subjects and had them sign a contract specifying how much (although he did not specify) in the presence of the factory ownerï¿½admitting that while it's a rare thing to do, he felt it was necessary. Jasmine, the 16-year-old village girl whose poignant story frames the film, kept a diaryï¿½one of the reasons Peled's crew was initially drawn to her. Some of her entries are used as voiceovers in the film. When asked to what extent Jasmine knew of Peled's real intent, and whether she became a co-conspirator, Peled said that while she was kept in the dark his team did coach her a bit to get the kind of material he wanted. "We did work with her on her journal," he said.
The closing scene in the film is even more concocted. In it, Jasmine plots with a friend to write a letter explaining her situation and slip it into a jeans' pocket in the hopes that someone in a faraway land would find it and get in touch with her. While Jasmine's actions, at times, appear to have been provoked by an off-camera question or comment, this scene is the only one that feels downright contrived, as though Jasmine is reading lines from a script.
"What happened with the letter? Did anyone ever find it?" an audience member asked Peled, her voice eagerï¿½thrilled, even.
"It was meant as a metaphor," Peled replied, explaining that the scenario was not intended to appear realistic, but to evoke questions in viewers: What would you do if you received such a note? Write her back? Contact the American retailer? Consider for once where your jeans were made, and how? The woman's face fell and at least one audience readerï¿½a journalist, natchï¿½also felt a bit cheated. It may not adhere to the strict journalistic standards reporters are accustomed to employing, but it's a fantastic documentary nonethelessï¿½well worth the eight bucks the JCC charged for admission. You can check out China Blue at the Roxie in SF through tomorrow night. Peled will speak after tonight's 7pm screening.
A sea lion that had bunked down in a dairy farm in Tracy had to be euthanized over the weekend after it suffered a lengthy seizure as a result of toxic algae poisoning, Mike Martinez reports today in the Oakland Tribune. "Happy" the sea lion evidently swam pretty far inland, climbed over a levee and into a barn, where she bedded down in the dirt and cow manure. Her brain, according to a spokesman from the Marine Mammal Rescue Center, was fairly addled by that point (a feeling many of us share when we go to Tracy), although the cause was algae poisoning and not traffic through the Altamont Pass. -- Eric Simons
Is it just us, or is the San Francisco Chronicle injecting buzz for the paper's upcoming Top 100 Restaurants guide? Since 2004, the Chron's reckoning of the Bay Area's best eateries has appeared in early April. But judging by today's main Food feature, the paper is hoping to whet readers' appetites a few months early. "Kitchen (Not So) Confidential" is staff writer Carol Ness's look at the City's restaurant inspections.
Okay, so by posting sanitation scores, the public health department is spurring restaurant owners to be diligent about mopping up sewage puddles in their prep kitchens. A fine piece, but Ness's frequent mention (five, by our count) of the paper's Top 100 list stands out as starkly as rats ravaging a sack of flour. This one's typical: "Of the Chronicle's Top 100 restaurants, 57 are in the current San Francisco database." Ness isn't alone. In today's Between Meals, executive food and wine editor Michael Bauer's blog, the Chron's veteran dining critic discusses restaurant celebrity-spotting. Bauer mentions the guide as casually as if he were describing a Caesar salad: "I was checking out Quince for my Top 100 Restaurants guide and I noticed that Bette Midler and her husband, Martin Von Haselberg, were dining a table away . . ." We get it: Drum it into readers' heads, and a Top 100 designation just might pick up the currency of Michelin stars or a Zagat rating.
Get Ready to Binge on Dips and Meat
Happy Super Bowl Wednesday! Today's the day newspaper food sections dust off recipe pieces about guacamole, seven-layer dip, and chili in sourdough bread bowls. You know -- the manly foods we're all supposed to be bringing to snacky potlucks this Sunday. The Chron's Stacy Finz gives the same old guac story a timely twist with a look at the killer freeze's effect on avocado harvests. (And we [heart] her for quoting a guac recipe from the Oakland restaurant Tamarindo.) But this year's winner for the most quotable Super Bowl Wednesday copy comes from Contra Costa Times correspondent Susan Larik, who's just cuh-razy for meatballs: "Meatballs are like M&M's in my family," she writes. "They're so easy to pop into your mouth with reckless abandon that you never really know how many you've eaten."
Do You Serve It in Unicorn Glassware?
Try this out on your Super Bowl buddies: beer the color of candied violets. Oakland Trib staffer William Brand's beer of the week is Lindemans Framboise, a Belgian lambic stained with whole raspberries. "What do you say about a purple beer with pink-lavender foam?" We say bring it on.
If you saw the debut of new Express column Full Disclosure in today's print edition, you've come to the right place to hear the audio of Reverend Kevin Thompson telling his flock about his baby-shark poaching ring and his confessions to Reverend Sun Myung Moon. Thompson of San Leandro agreed last week to spend a year in prison for his crimes. We'll see whether the feds also target Moon, the church's supreme leader and owner of the conservative newspaper Washington Times, now that there's a recording of one his followers saying that he told Moon about the shark poaching, and that Moon sought to expand the operation. The MP3 is a seven-minute excerpt of a 35-minute Thompson sermon on August 17, 2003. We spliced out one section, which revealed the location of the leopard shark spawning grounds in San Francisco Bay, in order to protect the sharks from further ill doings.
Today's Top Event: Bill Kirchen, the amazingly peripatetic electric guitarist, plays at Freight & Salvage in Berkeley.
Brainiac: Learn something new every day. Today's lecture: Mary Anderson Parks reads from her novel They Call Me Bunny at Black Oak Books in Berkeley.
Is It Lunch Yet? Express food critic John Birdsall recommends: Curry Corner in Hayward.
On the Town: Going out tonight? Try your luck winning raffle prizes at the Warehouse Bar's weekly lingerie show.
Hardly Working: You've got time. We know how to waste it. Check out Absolute Crazy Innovations.
Feed Us: Got an East Bay news tip, photo, video, or link we need to know about? E-mail us.
This week, "Artists, Inc.": Performance artists do crazy things and call it Art. Andy Kaufman got himself beat up by women wrestlers. Two people spent a full year tied together with rope. By comparison, Sean Fletcher and his wife Isabel Reichert merely made their conceptual art team, Death & Taxes Inc., into a corporate entity overseen by a board of directors composed of their friends, who must approve (or not) of the couple's every financial move. So everything Reichert and Fletcher did, like shopping for socks or going out to dinner or hiring a paparazzo to "stalk" them or attempting to sell the naming rights of their daughter, became part of a round-the-clock performance of "Life Art." The corporation didn't do too well. Maybe it's the time clock they installed to "clock in" after they came home from their day jobs. Or the jokes about their lives being outsourced to India. By golly, what will these wacky artists think of next? Next to them Exxon-Mobil doesn't seem quite so sinister after all. Read all about it in Will Harper's swan song as an Express staff writer. Kelly Vance
A fire engulfed a top-floor apartment in a Lower Temescal building at around two o'clock this afternoon, scaring the bejesus out of several passerby, including an Express reporter who resides two doors down from the site and just happened to be outside when a small stream of smoke began pouring through a front window. Seven fire trucks responded and the fire was deftly extinguished within thirty minutes. It appears that no one was in the apartment building, located on 40th Street between Telegraph and Webster, when the fire began, and that no one was injured.
Oakland Fire Department Battalion Chief Lorenzo Frediani said it wasn't a particularly tough fire to deal with. "It was pretty easy for us," he said as he surveyed his men hosing down the building ï¿½ meaning that tenants returning home after work today are in for a very nasty surprise.
When we first read that Oakland Tribune sports writer Dave Newhouse was launching a column celebrating the lives of ordinary folks and calling it "Good Neighbors," we thought: Mmmm. Blog fodder. What subject is more susceptible to the worst kind of cloying sentimentality? And his inaugural piece about Congresswoman Barbara Lee didn't disappoint. Behold the following misdemeanors against the English language:
"You have to admire her amazing resolve in the face of abject adversity." (Huh? Abject adversity?)
"But how did her Washington colleagues perceive her in 2001 - as a pariah, a traitor, looking at her with impeachable eyes?" (What are these impeachable eyes? Can you order a pair online?)
The good news is Newhouse is gonna do this three times a week. And they say life has lost its luster ...
Children's Hospital Oakland just sent out a "MEDIA ALERT AND PHOTO OPPORTUNITY" extolling the goodness of Emeryville's Pixar, now part of Disney. And what praiseworthy thing, pray tell, has Pixar done now? "The popular animated film company has generously donated beautiful Finding Nemo murals to dress up two waiting rooms" in the hospital's Diagnostic Imaging department, it announces.
The spin doesn't stop there. "The facelift will bring smiles to the children in our hospital. It will also create a soothing environment in the department and help lower children's fears and anxieties as they wait to get an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan, which can be a little scary." Okay, forgive us for being cynical bastards, but there's something this press release neglected to note: blatant self-interest.
Now what would it be worth for a company that deals in kids' movies, DVDs, and every sort of kiddie merchandise spinoff under the sun, to advertise directly to a captive audience of, in this case, particularly vulnerable children and their families, for an indefinite period? Well, let's just say it'd be worth a hell of a lot more than the cost of putting up a few Nemo murals. Now if Pixar were to kick in a new MRI unit, that'd be another story. As it were, the press release might have been written thus: "The facelift will bring smiles to the Disney accountants. It will also create a soothing marketing environment in the department and help lower shareholder fears and anxieties as they wait for a positive return on their investment, which can be a little scary."
By the way, does any company out there care to contribute to the mental health of a group of dedicated community journalists by redecorating the walls at the Express with your firm's trademarks? The PR could be awesome. But it's gonna cost ya.
Today's Top Event: Peruvian naturalist Jose-Ignacio Rojas-Moscoso -- aka Pepe -- appears at Berkeley REI to present a lecture entitled Exploring the Amazon in Southeastern Peru.
Brainiac: Learn something new every day. Today's lecture: Cult icon in his own mind and beyond, Neal Pollack ponders how to mix poetry readings with playdates and how to be both postpunk and a great pop at Cody's in Berkeley.
Is It Lunch Yet? Express food critic John Birdsall recommends: Taqueria La Bamba in Richmond.
On the Town: Going out tonight? Get "lost"in punk rock with DJ Wasty at the Lost Weekend Lounge in Alameda.
Hardly Working: You've got time. We know how to waste it. Check out Famous Birthdays.
Feed Us: Got an East Bay news tip, photo, video, or link we need to know about? E-mail us.