Drive-By Joy 

A new documentary shows people living the middle-class multicultural dream in an East Oakland neighborhood.

The main reason you'd be likely to hear about the Picardy Drive neighborhood in East Oakland is its lavish holiday decorations. Every year, the five-block stretch of Picardy between 55th Avenue and Seminary Avenue -- aka Christmas Tree Lane -- goes all out with its Christmas-Kwanzaa-Ramadan-Chanukah displays. Visitors flock there to ooh and ahh. But videomaker M.T. Silvia, who lives a few blocks away, saw more than just twinkling lights and reindeer. "It's about the community rather than the decorations," says Silvia. "I've always wanted to do a film about it." And her feature-length documentary, Picardy Drive, captures the hopeful cohesiveness of that community. It resembles an expanded TV segment on people we'd actually like to spend time with.

The place is like a fairy-tale kingdom -- make that democracy -- of multicultural benevolence and community spirit in the middle of a part of Oakland better known to the news media for drive-by shootings and drug deals. The street's distinctive Normandy-style "castle" bungalows were originally part of a 1920s housing development providing "modest mansions for the working class," but today the castles are inhabited by a classic East Bay mixture of blacks, whites, Asians, gays, lesbians, straights, young, and old -- the sort of people who care intensely about the street's grassy "island," where the local kids play and where lately the residents have held an auction to raise money for a Zimbabwe orphanage.

Silvia, a film/video professional who spent eight years at Skywalker Sound and now works as a video engineer at Pixar, took her all-volunteer crew to Picardy "about a year ago," she says. "I made the decision, and we were shooting the next week." The documentary gets into every nook and cranny, from the guy who opposes everything to a debate about speed bumps ("They do drive fast through there," notes Silvia). At one point, a resident observes, "The black community is much more accepting of otherness." Picardy Drive gets its first public screening this Friday, January 3, at La Peña Cultural Center (3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 7:30 p.m., $5-20 sliding scale). It airs on KTEH-TV San Jose in February.

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