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Scenes of life & death at home

By Peter Crimmins, Special to the Daily Planet
Friday May 10, 2002

To listen to filmmaker Kevin Epps, the director of “Straight Outta Hunter’s Point,” is to watch him move. He paces, glides, leans and lunges while fielding questions with sometimes elliptical, sometimes impressionistic answers. 

The 33-year-old filmmaker grew up with the players and hustlers on the streets of Hunter’s Point, where communication is based as much on a rapper’s jive and prattle as it is on the way one stands, stares, and moves hands to conceal or infer. Life on the street can be a dance or a hunt, and Epps says he can’t stay away from it. 

The small section of San Francisco usually notable for its toxic Superfund site and its disturbing homicide rate is the home of rivals gangs – West Mob and Big Block – battling for turf and rap status. Epps’s film shows rap music is both the glue and the fuse for the young people living in HP. 

Epps was able to move among and between the two gangs with his camera. He said it was hard, but he is one of them. Or was. When asked how far he has been involved in the “business” of the streets, he kicks his feet behind him, like a cat burying its own mess. Since he was 13 years old he’s been running on the streets of Hunter’s Point, he said, and he still hangs on the block to feel the energy and danger. But he’s a filmmaker, he insists, and not a thug.  

He got into filmmaking through the Film Arts Foundation, a non-profit San Francisco-based film and video makers’ support organization. There he learned the basics of video production, and through determination and serendipitous networking got “Straight Outta Hunter’s Point” completed. 

The video documentary has been shown around the Bay Area at various venues, and this weekend it begins a week-long run at the Fine Arts Cinema in Berkeley. The film documents the troubles and the vitality of the often-overlooked black community isolated on a spit of land jutting into the bay, across 3rd Street from San Francisco.  

“Some of these people have never crossed 3rd Street,” said Epps, adding that without jobs or prospects they don’t have much to live for. Nevertheless, the film shows it is still a community. Among the crack cocaine, handguns, and “thug business” are families rooted for generations, businesses, and ambition. Some of the ambition is for crime and a singular drive to make money; others, like Epps, aspire to improve life where they are living. 

The film lays out both the shame and the dignity of Hunter’s Point, from the Pacific Gas and Electric plant polluting the area and the nearby shipyards officially decreed a Toxic Superfund site, to the rappers and hustlers on the street signaling their hometown pride for the camera. 

The streets, Epps said, are a place where anything can happen. His handheld camera is a frenetic eye and ear roaming the housing projects and the corner liquor stores looking for the gesture and the word to describe the fear, injustice, humor, and exuberance of Hunter’s Point. A young man threatens to do ultimate harm on another man if he ever crosses his path again. On a hot summer day a few HP denizens stalk the streets armed for bear with Super Soakers – the bazooka of water guns – ready for a satisfying water fight. Epps delivers a sequence of cars peeling out and turning hot rod donuts through intersections and parking lots. 

And the images are bumped along by a soundtrack, featuring such HP rappers as RBL Posse and Baby Finsta.  

Initially completed last fall, the version of “Straight Outta Hunter’s Point” that will be screened at the Fine Arts Cinema has been re-edited. The film is slightly longer (by seven minutes) and now includes more historical footage of the naval shipyards and accounts of a significant riot in the ‘60s when the citizens rose up against the police. Epps said he wanted to show that the plight of Hunter’s Point hasn’t changed much in 40 years. 

The historical photographs and interviews with journalists and activists fighting for the community anchor the film’s message with thoughtful commentary, whereas the emotion and vitality come from the sometimes incoherent raps and slurs outside. Epps said he included interviews with old winos spending their time watching life from bus stop benches. You can’t watch the street for 50 years, said Epps, and not know something. 

Amid the excitement of the film is a sense of waste, of lives without direction and squandered energy. An inter-title says that during the production of “Straight Outta Hunter’s Point” there were 100 shootings, one of which was captured by Epps’s camera. One of the central tragedies of the film is that Epps’s friend and crew member, Bumper Joe, was killed during production. His funeral is the final act of the film. 

The film has been screened at the Bay View Opera House – the neighborhood theater in Hunter’s Point – and Epps said members of the rival gangs showed up. There was no trouble, he said, as he convinced both sides that the film is about the whole community and “You ain’t got to bow down.” 

He hopes people watching the film will pay attention to gentrification, and wake up to the way blacks are being displaced so that maybe Hunter’s Point will survive Hunter’s Point. 



“Straight out of Hunter’s Point” plays at the Fine Arts Cinema at 2451 Shattuck Ave. May 10 through May 17.