The topic of Robert Arnold’s movie — that of a severely disabled San Francisco man who, at 22, moves out of his mother’s house for the first time to live under the supervision of ‘round-the-clock paid caregivers — isn’t easy.
The tough subject in and of itself was one of the reasons why Arnold made “The Key of G,” which airs at 6 p.m. Sunday on Channel 9 as part of the PBS “Truly California” series.
“I started to make the film because I didn’t know how to relate to G,” says Arnold, who was friends with the artists who took care of, and lived with, the man. “It was my discomfort and curiosity about him at first.”
“G” is the nickname of the film’s subject, a fellow named Gannet Hosa-Betonte who was born with a syndrome whose characteristics resemble autism. Unable to speak or make eye contact, Gannet is nonetheless capable of making connections with his family and those who take time to get to know him.
The movie, which was shot between 2003 and 2004, covers a period when Gannet left his mother’s house and moved into a San Francisco apartment in a supported living situation (an alternative to a nursing home) with three artists who were friends themselves: Donal Mosher, Colter Jacobsen and Amanda Eicher.
“It was a great thing for G to live with a community of people, and have his own life,” says Arnold, who worked to reveal what life was like for person like Gannet in the film: “I wanted other people to know his life,” Arnold says.
In the end, the movie is as much about the people who Gannet touched. Arnold says, “His difficult way of dealing with the world made his caregivers slow down, and look at things in a different way.”
Not only did Gannet and his caregivers develop a tight, family-like community; their home also became a locus for art and music.
Arnold admits that while the film focuses on the more positive aspects of Gannet’s new living situation, it doesn’t ignore the hard times; for example, there’s extensive footage covering Gannet’s eye surgery.
The film probably couldn’t have been made outside the Bay Area, says Arnold, who grew up in a small California town near the Mojave Desert. He says, “There’s something about that community of artists and musicians who are alternative and inclusive that seems very San Francisco to me.”