San Francisco

'The Other Barrio': New Mission-Based Film May Be San Francisco's Next Great Noir

San Francisco is the city that birthed noir.

When Dashiell Hammett did the bulk of his detective writing during the 1920s, he used his adopted hometown as the setting for landmark works like The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man. Director Alfred Hitchcock followed suit by turning Vertigo in a virtual tour of the City By The Bay.

Maybe its the way the omnipresent fog pushes down on California dreams until they grind to a slow, shadowy halt (or maybe that's just where Hammett happened to live at the time), but the fact remains--if you're looking to make a noir, you could do much worse than setting it here.

Producer Lou Dematteis and director Dante Betteo of local film company SF Noir have taken advantage of the city's rich noir history and ensconced their upcoming film, "The Other Barrio," in the beating heart of San Francisco's vibrant Mission District.

"One of the reasons we're doing a noir film in San Francisco is that very history," explained Dematteis, who has lived in the Mission for four decades. "If you look at those older films, a lot of them were shot on location in San Francisco. We're using the city, in this case the Mission District, as almost a character in the story...This is a great place to shoot a noir film but there haven't been many done here recently."

"The Other Barrio" is based on a short story of the same name by San Francisco poet laureate Alejandro Murguía, who founded the Mission Cultural Center and teaches Latina/Latino Studies at San Francisco State University. The story was originally published in a 2005 anthology of short fiction called San Francisco Noir that collected noir stories from different neighborhoods around the city.

"We're living in the golden age of noir, of scoundrels, of shysters and of hustlers," Murguía told El Tecolote. "The story has everything: arsons and fires, drag scenes, great love scenes, suspense--typical Mission District. Not bad for a story, right?"

Murguía explained to Mission Local that his tale is based on the tragic true story of the Mission's Gartland Hotel, which burned to a crisp in 1975 when, as some have suspected, its landlords wanted to get rid of their tenants.

A mural depicting that very fire still exists on Harrison Street in the Mission today.

Murguía updated the story to the present day and turned it into the tale of Robert Moralez, an inspector with the city's Department of Building Inspection who, after a suspicious fire in a Mission District residential hotel kills seven people, is told to sweep the incident under the rug by his supervisor.

"The Mission has a long history of fires being used as a way to develop the area," said Dematteis. "We're very much dealing with gentrification and culture clash, with the Latin character of the neighborhood being gradually displaced."

The production team has completed the majority of filming and is hoping to get everything wrapped up by March with an ultimate release date of Fall 2013. They held a fundraiser at the Brava Theater earlier this month and are soliciting donations through an Indiegogo page.

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