When's the last time you had a conversation about the Bay Area's housing nightmare where all sides were present? Hard-up renters blame gentrification, anti-eviction activists blame tech workers (and sometimes developers), developers blame restrictive planning regulations, techies and wonks blame decades of insufficient housing production, and NIMBYs blame other people for daring to exist. In reality, of course, the issue is so gnarly and long-simmering—beginning with San Francisco's tightly limited geography and ending in yet another round between housing advocates and supply-and-demand deniers—that no one set of interests carries the blame, and vomiting on the problem (or the symbol of the problem) does not make it go away. In effort to tell some of the personal stories behind the headlines, TechCrunch and AOL commissioned an 11-minute short film, "You Can't Go Home Again," which TechCrunch released today.
In the film—a production of the independent journalism outfit Stateless Media—we meet longtime SF residents who are being priced out, activists protesting the presence of tech in the city, and young tech workers who wander around the Mission, wondering if they'll ever be able to afford a house. If anything, it's easy to sympathize with all the characters; the way the film is edited, anti-eviction activists and tech workers and displaced tenants sometimes seem to finish each other's sentences. "It's not as if anyone said, 'If we have to evict three-quarters of San Francisco and make room for a bunch of millionaires, great,' says Stateless Media producer Peter Savodnik. "That's no one's position. I think everyone recognizes that the way the city is configured now is problematic."
"You Can't Go Home Again" is an outgrowth of TechCrunch writer Kim-Mai Cutler's famously in-depth explainer on the housing crisis (which we wish we could incept into the minds of everyone on all sides of the debate). "The challenge is that there are no heroes or villains," explains Savodnik. "We want to rise above the din and give viewers something none of our characters have, which is a more full-bodied perspective. All of these characters have valid points and want reasonable things, but none seems entirely aware of how other people are thinking, not because they're bad people—simply because they're busy or distracted or consumed by their own thoughts."
Though the film includes some passionate voices, Savodnik and director Grant Slater steer clear of the incendiary tone that so often takes hold when the values of old and new San Francisco collide on, say, a Mission District soccer field. Early cuts of the film included less-than-flattering, "gotcha"-style comments that didn't reflect well on the speakers—exactly the sort of fuel that sent the Dropbox soccer-field story ripping around the Internet. "Ultimately we chose to drop those because they're a distraction," says Savodnik. "We do an injustice to anyone if we attach that comment to them and that becomes the obliterating comment—the thing we think about when we see those people. We wanted to foster conversation between all of our characters. It would have been easy to derail that conversation, and I didn't want to do that."
· Stateless Media [Official Site]
· You Can't Go Home Again [TechCrunch]
· How Burrowing Owls Lead to Vomiting Anarchists (Or SF's Housing Crisis Explained) [TechCrunch]
· Let's All Maybe Chill Out About the Mission Soccer Field Thing? [SF Mag]