Zachary Stauffer's documentary A Day Late in Oakland opens with a commercial kitchen getting destroyed: Men in hard hats hammer into a wall and dismantle a large oven while, offscreen, an architect makes plans for a new apartment upstairs. The shots don't immediately suggest that this is a film about a murder, or that the building was the place where members of Your Black Muslim Bakery allegedly conspired to kill Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey in August of 2007, shortly after Bailey began investigating the business' spotty financial history. Then, a couple of minutes into the first sequence, Stauffer shows the construction workers disassembling a giant mixer that had been used to make breads and cakes with "all natural ingredients." His use of the mixer as a framing device — and a rather cryptic symbol of the bakery's demise — gives some indication as to how he plans to treat the subject matter. His film is cautious, and about as balanced as it could be given his scant access to relatives and associates of bakery founder Yusef Bey. But it's also harrowing.
Stauffer launched his career making broadcast documentaries about land use and urban sprawl. He learned about the slaying of Bailey during a summer internship with Al Jazeera English in Washington, DC, and decided to pursue it as his master's thesis at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. By October, he was knee-deep in the story, having contacted Bailey's family and interviewed several local journalists — including reporters from the Chauncey Bailey Project and former East Bay Express writer Chris Thompson, who first documented the nefarious side of Yusef Bey's empire in 2002. He also interviewed former bakery business consultant Joe Debro and community activist Eddie Abrams, who both spoke positively about Your Black Muslim Bakery as an institution.
A Day Late in Oakland is mostly an archival film, but it's well paced and dramatic. Stauffer takes pains to humanize his subjects in a short amount of time (just under half an hour). Not surprisingly, the filmmaker had some unsettling moments during his nine-month production process. Most perturbing was when Stauffer explored the bakery's upstairs apartment, right as the downstairs was getting torn down. There he found an article by Bailey tacked to one of the bedroom walls. It praised the bakery's school program and everything the organization had done for African Americans in Oakland. "This was months after the murder, and I don't think some worker who was just there to do construction and demolition duties would just tack that up on the wall — it was probably already there," Stauffer surmised. "The fact that it was hanging there as someone was talking about how to kill this guy was another haunting reality of the story." A Day Late in Oakland screens Saturday, May 2 (3:30 p.m.), and Thursday, May 7 (2:30 p.m.), at San Francisco's Sundance Kabuki Cinema (1881 Post St.). $10-$12.50. ADayLateinOakland.com
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