“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” is more than just a tale about the changing face of a city. It’s a story about who has the rightful claim to a city’s identity. The film — which took 10 years to make — is even more relevant today as gentrification takes over entire neighborhoods, often pushing out communities from what is probably the most expensive city to live in America today.
The movie received rave reviews at Sundance, where it won two awards, including best director.
Starring San Francisco native Danny Glover, it is directed by another San Francisco native, Joe Talbot, who makes his directorial debut with the film, which is inspired by the true story of his childhood best friend, Jimmie Fails.
Fails dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home built in the heart of city by his grandfather. But as it turns out, the reality is very different.
Talbot dropped out of high school to make movies with Fails: “I’m making movies with my best friend, who’s not some big bankable actor. We’re just, you know, kids from San Francisco trying to make movies.”
NBC Bay Area sat down to chat with Talbot and Fails — who plays himself in the movie — right before a red-carpet event at the Castro Theater in San Francisco.
Why is the storyline in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” so relevant today?
Jimmie Fails: “In the movie, I'm trying to get a house, my family house back. When you lose your home to gentrification or whatever it is, a home represents something for everyone, something different. But, usually something very significant or very important. I feel like that's something that has resonated with people, especially in the Bay Area, especially in a city that’s being pushed out.”
Knowing what is happening now, do you have nostalgia for the city that you grew up in?
Joe Talbot: “This friendship, I fear, might not get to exist in a future San Francisco, where two kids from different backgrounds, came together, became very close friends and then made art together. That to me, is an important part of this city.”
Jimmie Fails: “Sometimes, it feels like the city doesn’t love me as back as much as I love it, sometimes. There are still pockets there and I still appreciate the SF that I got to grow up in."
Where does the title “The last black man in San Francisco” come from?
Jimmie Fails: "I’m not the last black man [in San Francisco], obviously. I think it's like what 3 percent black or something now. It's like super, super low. My family house was in the Fillmore, by Duboce Park — like that park used to be full of black people. It was like boom boxes out and dice games. Now, it’s just like a dog park and there’s no colored people there.”
Joe Talbot: “There are a lot of people connected to Jimmie’s story that have different experiences. This film began as an idea between two friends, but now feels like it was made by an entire city’s worth of people.”
How did you meet Danny Glover? How was it working with him?
Joe Talbot: “Danny Glover called Jimmie.”
Jimmie Fails: “He called my cell phone, my personal cell, like randomly. Working with Danny Glover was easier than I expected because he was so humble and easy going and you know like checking in with me.”
What’s the message of this film — what do you want people to get out of it when they watch it?
Jimmie Fails: “It was so personal for me that I just I didn't feel like some star when I was filming it. It felt so real for me and it was such a therapeutic experience. I grew as a person doing this movie. You want to fight for what you love, but you also want to acknowledge the fact that you know, sometimes, maybe it might be time to look at moving on to a different stage of life.”
“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” debuts in select theaters June 7.