“Lost Landscapes of San Francisco” is not about nostalgia for a bygone city. Archivist Rick Prelinger describes his annual feature-length presentation of rare, rescanned, film clips as more of an “intervention.”
“We’re all talking about what the future of San Francisco ought to be,” Prelinger says. “It's a contribution to the debate. It gives particularly newer residents a sense of history, so they understand what this city used to be like and what kind of community they've moved into.“
The ninth “Lost Landscapes” installment – screening in a sold-out event at the Castro Theatre on Thursday and again in a benefit for the nonprofit digital library Internet Archive on Dec. 19 – offers home movie footage of Haight Street, historic images of Playland and the waterfront, early color scenes of bustling Market Street, views of San Francisco Riding Academy members trotting into Golden Gate Park, and a view of a strolll on the Golden Gate Bridge before it was completed.
“Something really amazing happens when you take something that was meant to be shown in people's living rooms and blow it up to theater size,” Prelinger says. “People become cultural geographers, looking at the city as a residential canvas for all kinds of interactions and possibilities. They engage in some really sophisticated insights.”
Prelinger receives most of his raw footage from local families. The rest comes from archives, repositories and eBay.
“This program is extremely relationship-dependent,” he says. “It's all about connecting with people who might have material or know where it is.”
Prelinger, a UC Santa Cruz professor of film and digital media who founded and co-founded archives and a library that bear his name, began collecting and exhibiting classic San Francisco footage due to his deep-seeded enthusiasm for urban history. That passion continues to fuel “Lost Landscapes,” a pro bono project supported in part by The Long Now Foundation.
In contrast to a university lecture, Prelinger encourages discussion – even debate – during every “Lost Landscapes” seminar.
“If we want to design a city that is resilient for both boom and bust, we really have to look at history,” he says. “We're a city that's very culturally adventurous and radical. But on the other hand, it seems like we don't want to change very much. One of the things I hope the program gets people talking about is what kind of change do we want?”
IF YOU GO
Lost Landscapes of San Francisco, 9
When: 6 p.m. Dec. 19
Where: Internet Archive, 300 Funston Ave., S.F.
Tickets: $15 to $100
Contact: www.brownpapertickets.com, www.longnow.org
Note: A screening at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., S.F. is sold out.