Thursday, February 11, 2016, 8:00 pm
The Fall of the I-Hotel
(Curtis Choy, 1983) 58 minutes
Just about every San Franciscan knows where Noe Valley and the Mission are, but what about Carville, Irish Hill, or Manilatown? The names of these lost San Francisco neighborhoods are reminders that seemingly-robust communities can be transformed at the whim of powerful real estate and corporate interests. The Fall of the I-Hotel chronicles the final months of Manilatown, the stretch of Kearny Street that housed a huge population of Filipino immigrants for much of the twentieth century. Its last major remnant, the International Hotel at Jackson Street, was demolished in 1977 after years of community resistance. Its residents, mostly Filipino and Chinese seniors, struggled to save their homes, aided by extensive support from church and community groups, activists, and residents citywide. This film not only documents the culmination of a decade-long battle to save the International Hotel, but also gives an overview of Filipino American history.
Filmmaker Curtis Choy beautifully lays out the history and way of life of the Manongs [Filipino elders] living in the hotel through interviews and archival photographs, then guides a vérité immersion in the protests themselves. The nighttime cinematography, though barely discernable in existing video transfers, is extraordinarily rich on the 16mm print we’ll be showing. The film’s depictions of evictions, police/protestor face-offs, and the forced transformation of a neighborhood make The Fall of the I-Hotel as relevant as ever today.
If Wayne Wang’s 1982 Chan Is Missing marked the beginning of Asian-American narrative filmmaking as a force on the national cinematic scene, then The Fall of the I-Hotel was a similar catalyst for Asian-American documentary. Its director Curtis Choy had made humorous and serious short films for many years, and also worked as cinematographer and sound mixer on other films (including Chan Is Missing) while also documenting the events leading up to the I-Hotel’s final days.