FILM "It's highly probable that no one but Kevin Epps could have made a film like Straight Outta Hunters Point," begins Erik K. Arnold's 2001 Guardian article. Epps, then a 33-year-old first-time filmmaker, had just released his bold documentary; it investigated a neighborhood that most San Francisco residents never actually visited, but knew about thanks to news coverage of its prodigious gang violence.
"That world wouldn't open up to an outsider," Epps, who grew up there before studying film at San Francisco State University and the now-defunct Film Arts Foundation, told Arnold.
Cut to 2012, and Epps is no longer an emerging talent — he's a full-time independent filmmaker with multiple credits (including The Black Rock, a documentary about Alcatraz's African American inmates, and hip-hop film Rap Dreams), collaborations (with Current TV and others), and an artist fellowship at the de Young Museum under his belt. For his newest project, he returns to the scene of his first work. He no longer resides in Bayview-Hunters Point, but he still lives close by, and he's never lost touch with the community that inspired the first film and encouraged him to make its follow-up.
"Straight Outta Hunters Point opened up a lot of opportunities up for me, in terms of traveling abroad and being exposed to experiences that I would never have had [otherwise]," Epps explains. "But I was always mindful of, you know, this is my passport: telling the [community's] stories, that's my passport to the world. So though my life has changed a little bit, I've never been too far away from what's going on in the community. I decided to keep shooting certain things that I thought had significance, and more importantly interviewing people in the community who could give insight into its current state."
Despite its title, and its similar use of handheld camera, SOHP 2 is not a straightforward sequel to part one.
"I wanted to talk to people who really live in the community [to find out] what's going on every day — Straight Outta Hunters Point eight, nine, ten years later. Have things changed for the better or gotten worse?" Epps says of his new film. "It's not really a sequel — it's a continuation of that conversation, and looking at where things are now, compared to how they were then. Obviously there's some redevelopment that's been happening. That's apparent in the film, when the Hunters View housing development slowly gets torn down."
Epps built his film around themes that arose from his interviews with Hunters Point residents, including the disconnect between generations — older folks with activist backgrounds, and youths who face "a lot of distractions" as they approach adulthood — and pressures, both internal and external, that have shaped the neighborhood.
"These are the predominant topics that come up, if you go to the barber shop or if you're hanging out at the gym, and you get into an informal conversation. Redevelopment. Violence, which has a history that's still being dealt with. [Discussing] these reoccurring themes is a way to see if there's been any progress. Being a filmmaker, I was trying to put them into a creative context, more like an edu-tainment sort of piece," he says. "My first documentary was really for the community, when I was living there, to have a conversation with ourselves. [SOHP 2] is less of a personal story. It's [investigating], did we break some of the cycles? And how do things look in the present day?"