Showing Their Side 

As local media demonized East Oakland's now-infamous "sideshows," capturing the real story fell to amateur videographers like Yakpasua Zazaboi and Dallas Lopes.

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The world of sydeshows and the ones that try to stop 'em

But we be from the Deep East all the way to Lower Bottoms

Like Whaaat

Punk police ain't fuckin' with us

Touchin' enough heat can't do nothin' with us

We don't be bustin' then duck, we just light the whole block up

-- Rapper Slowe Burna, "True 2 It"

Nothing better demonstrates how thoroughly police lost control than Zazaboi's video "Sydewayz." It shows the type of confrontations that were becoming commonplace: police arguing with drivers, writing tickets, chasing people on foot, pulling drivers out of cars, handcuffing them. Police uneasily questioning Zazaboi about what he's doing with the camera. When he fibs he's doing it for a Castlemont High School documentary, an officer goes for his cell phone, announcing that he knows the media teacher at Castlemont, and is going to check.

One of the most chilling scenes in "Sydewayz" was not shot at a sideshow, but while a friend of Zazaboi's was driving him around East Oakland one night. It shows a grimacing officer wheeling and pointing his revolver directly at the camera, and then cuts to a young woman spread-eagled in the middle of the street, officers aiming weapons at her from behind their cars. Zazaboi says they came upon the incident by accident, and as he began filming, the officer turned his gun on them. You can hear the driver of Zazaboi's car saying, "God, I don't want them to blow my brains out." Zazaboi says he included the scene because, while "it ain't the sideshow, it's life on the street in Oakland."

But mostly, his footage captures the infectious enthusiasm of the young sideshowers. The half-hour video was produced without narrative, relying on visuals and street-corner comments by participants, backed up by a driving hip-hop beat. Donuts by high-performance cars dominate the footage, some throwing up smoke so thick it completely obscures the cars. Some scenes are even shot from inside the spinning cars themselves. There also are donuts by unexpected vehicles -- trucks and motorcycles and even a dirt bike -- as well as classic footage of someone walking a car in a circle on three wheels at a time, alternating the wheel that's in the air, a feat of aerodynamics not easily described.

Zazaboi did most of the technical work himself, from shooting to editing to designing the DVD and video boxes. Using savings from jobs at Hayward's Life Chiropractic College and the Golden Gate Club at the Presidio, he cut four thousand copies of the documentary and turned his attention to marketing. Having little money left for advertising, he went both low-tech and high-tech, setting up a Web site, passing out flyers, and relying on word of mouth and hand-to-hand sales as he and his friends toured the sideshows on the weekends. Sales exceeded all expectations. Recently, he said, his brother discovered a box at the house containing the last ten copies. "I thought they were all gone," Yap said. "It was like finding a gold mine."

The Oakland video-buying public wasn't alone in its regard for "Sydewayz." The video also impressed the judges at Oakland's nationally recognized Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. At the insistence of his Laney College instructors Oji Blackston and Wendell Cooper, Zazaboi entered the video in the association's 2001 awards competition. "I didn't even know anything about these competitions," Zazaboi confesses. "I didn't even know about the Black Filmmakers." But they soon knew about him. "Sydewayz" won an award in the association's 2001 community category.

Cheryl Fabio, operations manager for the City of Oakland's KTOP television station, also was impressed with Zazaboi's abilities and vision, although she says he still has work to do on his craft. "He has great rhythm with his material," she says. "Sometimes he had longer scenes and sometimes he would have shorter scenes, but he seemed to be able to hold onto a shot just long enough to capture the drama of it, and then know when to end it." Fabio says her station even offered Zazaboi a job, but he turned it down. "Everybody else thought he was coming, but I didn't," she says. "I would have loved to have him here, but he's an artist, and that's not the type of work we do."

Buoyed by the success of "Sydewayz" and the continuing growth of the sideshows, an ever-increasing number of videographers was turning up at the events. Lopes remembers seeing as many as twenty video cameras a night, most of them camcorders carried by people shooting home movies. But several cameramen had other things in mind. "By the end of 2001, everybody and their mama was talking about doing a documentary about the sideshows," Zazaboi recalls. "I'd be out there and they'd be talking about it right behind me."


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