Local Filmmakers Explore Meaning of Oakland’s First Fridays

A monthly art walk is probably the last place most people would expect a shooting to occur, but in Oakland last February, that is exactly what happened.

After a young man’s death at “First Friday”, where art lovers crowd the sidewalks and often enjoy food and wine at local galleries, two filmmakers decided to make a movie about the gathering in the hopes of starting a dialogue about the many facets of life in Oakland.

One the one hand, the East Bay city was recently listed as one of America’s top five places to visit by the New York Times, but it’s also considered the third most violent city in America—with more than 100 murders —according to the FBI.

“People only see one thing of Oakland, but we want to produce something that’s more than what you see on the news,” said N’Jeri Eaton, one of the filmmakers, who wants to show there is more to Oakland than headline grabbing crime.

The “First Friday” film takes a look at how the event went from being a small art gathering to a citywide festival that attracts nearly 20,000 people each month — where Kiante Campbell, 18, was shot and killed after getting into a confrontation with a group of young people. Three others were wounded.

Memorial for Kiante Campbell, 18, kiled at February "First Friday" event.

Memorial for Kiante Campbell, 18, kiled at February “First Friday” event.

As a result of the February shooting, the event that once went from 14th to 27th street was scaled back to a smaller area — from 27th Street to West Grand Avenue. The event was also scheduled to end at 9 p.m., two hours earlier than before.

Eaton is no stranger to tackling crime stories. She produced a film that looked at the 2009 killing of four police officers from the perspective of the shooter, Lovelle Mixon.

The film showed how some in the community felt the shooter was justified because of tension with the city’s police department.

For “First Friday,” Eaton teamed up with Mario Furloni, whom she met at U.C. Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism a few years ago.

Rather than looking into the murder or the investigation, the filmmakers hope to spark a conversation about the social issues facing Oakland.

Furloni said that the film follows a diverse group of people who are working to preserve an event that has become a reflection of the cultural and economic realities in Oakland.

First Friday organizers are facing tough financial problems and the future of the event is uncertain. In June, organizers received the last chunk of public funding they will get from the city.

Although that money covers the cost of the July 5 event, it’s unclear what will happen after that. Organizers must find ways to pay for private security to secure future events.

Eaton believes that organizers are still trying to find the right balance of safety and control without watering down the event.

The film was shot a week before First Friday in March. Eaton says shrines and other memorabilia were still on the streets paying homage to shooting victim Kiante Campbell.

Eaton says she was inspired by the new movie “Fruitvale Station,” which uses the story of Oscar Grant, a man shot by BART police in 2009, to tell a deeper story about the people and the community of Oakland.

Eaton says, “The movie [‘Fruitvale Station’] has opened up a dialogue about Oakland, and I hope our movie does the same.”

The documentary is scheduled for release next year. Until then, Eaton and Furloni are working to finish producing the film. In August, a fundraiser will be held at Somar Bar in Oakland. For more information, visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/firstfridayfilm/first-friday-film.

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