San Francisco 2.0San Francisco 2.0

Interview With Filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi

What reactions have you gotten to the documentary so far?

After I did Real Time with Bill Maher, I got inundated with emails from all across the country saying, "This is exactly what is happening in my town." Which is funny because I was talking about the big cities becoming gated communities. I heard from people in Florida and North Carolina. What I depicted in San Francisco 2.0 isn't just happening in the big cities, though, it's happening in little communicate all across America. People write 10 pages saying, "You should come make a movie in my community." I was struck by the emails.

At its core, this is a film about people getting left behind -- that strikes a nerve with many, for sure.

I live in the same world because I do films, and this is my tenth HBO documentary, and they mandated I go digital, which I've never done. I have to learn how to use cards and digitize and upload. I have to adapt or die. And that's what the film is about. I guess we all kind of want to be frozen in time in the place where we're comfortable and happy -- which is home. That's where you feel at peace.

How did you come to this project?

I live in New York, but I go home to California all the time, and I saw what was happening in my hometown of San Francisco. Because it's this city that has this reputation for being the counter-culture capital of America, I thought it was an interesting story to tell. San Francisco is the microcosm for what's happening all over the world. How is Airbnb changing the makeup of America and the world? How is Uber changing transportation in America and the world? All of these things are coming out of San Francisco -- it's the birthplace of all this art and culture in the past, and all this commerce now, so it's an interesting story. It's an interesting moment in time to be talking about San Francisco. If America were a scale, all the weight is shifting to the west coast.

An interesting point that comes up in the documentary is the dearth of older people and children in San Francisco. Did you find that to be true?

There are old people in San Francisco because my parents still live there. The young tech bros don't see old people or children. The Mission district, where they live and work, they don't see children or old people. That statement revealed, to me, the blinders that the techies are wearing. They live in their own bubble -- they use San Francisco as their playground, they're not looking at it as their community. As they grow up, maybe they'll fall in love and have babies, and then they'll look at it as their community. People keep asking, "How are you going to solve this?" And the truth is that the young people just have to grow up.

A big idea, too, in the film is that San Francisco is saving the world. Was that a mood you felt while you were filming?

There's a certain attitude that you'll experience in San Francisco. You could call it hubris. Silicon Valley is enjoying its moment in the sun -- I've called it their Midnight in Paris moment. We can't deny the benefits that the techies are bringing to the city -- all that tax revenue that they're bringing to the city is great. But we have to acknowledge that there is a dark side.

Was there a feeling of simmering rage at what's happening in the city?

At the film's premiere in San Francisco, I felt like I was walking into a civil war. On the one side, you have people who have done really well in the tech boom, and on the other side you have people who have been pushed out of San Francisco. You can't go there without stepping in it. You have to be so careful about everything you say -- you don't want to offend anybody, just want to talk about the problem without stirring the pot. My uncle was the mayor of Baltimore, and when I talked to him about the film, he said, "These are good problems to have. Every city would die to have these problems." Cities need to reinvent themselves in order to stay alive. The question is: Can the teachers and fire fighters and cops afford to stay in the towns where they have lived for generations? They're getting pushed out of their communities.

Did you get a sense that the tech folks understand their part in changing San Francisco?

I think this conversation has been going on long enough that they realize they have to participate in the community. It's a public relations problem. The tech companies have a PR problem because they're young and they don't have a really sophisticated public relations organization. They're getting them. We can't bust tech companies -- it's hard and they're trying to navigate the issues.

Anything you would like to add?

In the film, I interviewed the governor of California and all the former mayors of San Francisco because I wanted to focus on: How did we get here? And where are the grown-ups that are going to solve these problems? Because it doesn't matter what I think. It matters what the mayor of San Francisco thinks because he has power. I have no power. The mayor of San Francisco has to solve these problems. I wanted to have this conversation from a legislator's point of view because they have to come up with the laws that regulate these new industries.
This may sound cliché, but the people have to rise up, but the people have to tell their leaders where they want their societies to go. The world is looking to San Francisco for answers right now. They have a lot of power because they're going to put this stuff on the ballot, other cities are going to look at it as precedent. The people will decide what the rules are going to be in the new world order because, right now, San Francisco is deciding what the new world economy is going to look like. That's why we should be paying attention to San Francisco.