Skeptical of claims that The City has been home to some of the oldest gay haunts around, composer-filmmaker Jack Curtis Dubowsky set forth to unveil the true story behind lost and unknown cultural relics of the queer community.
His first feature-length documentary, “Submerged Queer Spaces,” premiering Saturday at the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, captures the urban archeology of past and present locales across alleyways, bathhouses, bars and other gathering hotspots of The City.
In conjunction with the screening, on Sunday, Dubowsky and cinematographer Wilfred Galila will lead a walking tour showcasing some of the places in the film.
Architecture, as luck would have it, doesn’t come with the attitude or baggage of a diva.
“Buildings are not moody. They’re always there – always on set,” says the Dubowsky, which made for his easy transition from modest projects to this full-length film, which uses a match-cut editing process to link buildings with archival images from the Henri Leleu Papers of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society.
Identifying interview subjects was more difficult. Dubowsky wanted to include a rich cast of subjects representing different genders and ethnicities, who could recount long-forgotten monuments of The City’s past.
The San Francisco Prime Timers, a social group for older gay and bisexual men, was a worthy resource, leading to appearances and insights from Guy Clark, Gerald Fabien, Jim Fouratt, Doug Hilsinger, Nick Jarrett, JD Taylor, Jim Van Buskirk and Jae Whitaker.
The match-cut process prompted Dubowsky to search for physical remnants, such as old signposts and hardware, linking past and present. Blue and gold tiles on a building wall on Turk Street in the Tenderloin serve as a reminder of the defunct bar Blue and Gold.
Meanwhile, the legendary leather bar Tool Box on Fourth and Harrison streets has been converted into a Whole Foods and housing complex. The Ramrod, which opened in the late 1960s on Folsom Street, has evolved into other queer-centric spots such as Chaps and now Kok Bar.
But Dubowsky adds that many submerged queer spaces disappeared. He says, “Anything to do with ethnic communities and women’s spaces is gone.”
Case in point: Polk and Valencia streets appear in the film with a history lesson about life before the invasion of kitschy boutiques.
“I’ve always been fascinated by this notion of extending this type of nostalgia backwards beyond me,” says Dubowsky. “I can point out (and say) look at this place. It used to be a lesbian bar and no one would know. They’d look at it and say, that’s just an apartment building, but I can point to it and say look that’s where they hung the sign.”
IF YOU GO
Submerged Queer Spaces
When: 1:45 p.m. Saturday
Where: Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., S.F.
When: 11 a.m. Sunday
Where: Meet outside GLBT History Museum, 4127 18th St., S.F.
Tickets: Free; $5 donation to GLBT Historical Society encouraged
Contact: (510) 303-4946, www.submergedqueerspaces.com