San Francisco Examiner writer Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez, a native of The City, is thrilled to share his civic pride in “Company Town.”
“I’m proud to be one of the few journalists in The City who has strong ties to The City, whose life is directly affected by what happens in The City,” says the reporter and political columnist, a narrator of sorts in the documentary by Bay Area filmmakers Deborah Kaufman and Alan Snitow.
In the compelling movie opening this week at the Roxie, Rodriguez leads a tour through the Mission, pointing out dramatic changes in the working-class, admittedly gritty neighborhood now being taken over by wealthy tech industry workers.
At one point, he stops in front of a sign on the street advertising new luxury condos; he calls the phone number on it to find the units are selling for between $1.7 million and $2.4 million.
The real estate person on the line calls the location “ground zero.”
“Could they be more clueless?” says Fitzgerald, during a recent interview at his office.
The scene is one of many illustrating tensions between proponents of the digital economy, who are driving rents up, and driving out longtime residents, including many minorities who have been evicted. (Rodriguez’s grandfather was one of them.)
The main conflict in “Company Town” is the 2015 political battle for the San Francisco Supervisor’s District Three seat, in which Mayor Ed Lee protégé Julie Christensen (backing the so-called “sharing” economy as exemplified by Airbnb and Uber) faces progressive contender Aaron Peskin, who wants to limit tech companies’ ever-growing economic reach and keep people in their homes.
Rodriguez got the movie gig after he casually met Snitow, the film’s co-director and producer, who was beginning research for a film about how tech was influencing San Francisco politics, on one Tuesday at City Hall.
“I started jabbering his ear off, naming names,” says Rodriguez. His knowledge prompted the filmmakers to ask him to take them on a tour, with the camera running.
On a walk down Valencia Street, he randomly runs into his cousin Jacob; he also shows off a mural in Clarion Alley that pinpoints where people have been evicted.
“I became so enraged seeing all that gentrification, I even got into fight with one of my friends,” says Rodriguez, whose anger is in the movie (but conflict with his friend is not).
None of his scenes were prewritten, rehearsed or reshot: “I was simply retelling stories I know, stories I cover, going to places where I grew up,” Rodriguez says, “It’s not reporting 101, it’s my life.”
While it admittedly was “strange” seeing himself on film (and being reminded, he says, “of how much weight I’ve gained”), Rodriguez also stresses that he’s not against the tech industry.
He says, “It’s not about telling tech to go away, it’s about tech behaving responsibly.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Aaron Peskin, Julie Christensen, Ed Lee, Ron Conway, Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez, Jeffrey Kwong, Sunny Angulo
Directed by Deborah Kaufman, Alan Snitow
Running time 1 hour, 17 minutes
Note The film screens Oct. 28 through Nov. 3 at the Roxie; the filmmakers will speak after 7 p.m. screenings Oct. 28-29.
Editor’s note: The writer of this story and Rodriguez are colleagues.