There’s a scene worth pondering toward the end of “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” a newly released Sundance film written by San Francisco locals Jimmie Fails and Joe Talbot.
Two young, Caucasian women sit side by side on Muni. One nonchalantly applies her makeup, as the other looks disdainfully out the window. They are complaining about San Francisco – how the city wasn’t what they thought it would be, of where they’d like to move next. Their conversation catches the attention of Fails, who also plays the film’s protagonist. He looks at them incredulously.
“You can’t hate it here unless you love it here,” he tells them.
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Their brief exchange captures the conflicting feelings that resonate with many residents living here today. “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” is a brokenhearted love letter to SF, focusing on a man who struggles to reclaim his Victorian-style home in a changing (read: gentrified) city.
The striking resonation of the film’s subject matter largely has to do with the fact that it’s inspired by Fails’ own life. Throughout the film, Fails and his best friend, Mont, played by Jonathan Majors, strive to survive in the outskirts of the city they can no longer afford to live in. Sharing a small, cramped room in the home of Mont’s grandfather, Allen (played by Danny Glover), the two fantasize about a better life: preferably, in the house Fails’ grandfather built in the 1940s where he dreams of one day returning.
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The likable pair are so passionate about the house that they return to it day after day, touching up its paint and tending to its flowers, much to the dismay of the current homeowners. When unforeseen circumstances force them to move out, Jimmie and Mont begin to wonder if their dream could become a reality.
It’s a heart-wrenching, yet important story that provides more of a documentation of San Francisco itself than a fictional narrative. And it’s exhibited beautifully: The film was shot in many recognizable locations, among them the Fillmore district, once known as the Harlem of the West, as well as Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard and Bernal Heights Park.
It’s a film about not giving up, and a celebration of the longtime locals who still love their city, despite its changes.
Click through the slideshow above to see some of the SF locations that appear in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.”
Amanda Bartlett is an SFGate editorial assistant. Email: [email protected]