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Film: Cinematic San Francisco

Jim Van Buskirk explores San Francisco on the Big Screen
Tuesday, 6/25/2024
6:00 - 7:30
Koret Auditorium
Main Library

100 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

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Jim Van Buskirk, a retired SFPL librarian, major movie buff, and public speaker, is the co-author of Celluloid San Francisco: The Film Lover’s Guide to Bay Area Movie Locations as well as other books, articles, blogs and radio broadcasts on San Francisco and film history. 

This four-part series celebrates San Francisco's important role in the movies. These lively clip-filled programs are engaging, entertaining and educational. Beginning with a general overview of bay area in films and television, narrowing the focus to representations of the 1906 earthquake, before traversing the Golden Gate Bridge, and finally landing on Alcatraz.

6/4/24 "San Francisco on the Silver Screen"

            San Francisco has appeared in hundreds of movies and television series, some famous, others obscure, from Eric von Stroheim's 1924 Greed to Dirty Harry to The Matrix Resurrection. Using film stills and clips, this program demonstrates the Bay Area’s rich cinematic history, from Charlie Chaplin starring in silent films at Essanay Studio in Niles through Philo Farnsworth’s invention of television (remember The Doris Day Show?), sometimes becoming an inadvertent time capsule documenting long-gone sites. Among the many familiar (or not-so-familiar scenes) are the Alta Plaza Park steps being chipped in What’s Up, Doc?, the futuristic skyline in Towering Inferno and Bicentennial Man, and the geographically inconsistent chase sequence in Bullitt.

6/11/24 "Hollywood Shakes San Francisco"

            The 1906 earthquake and fire is the single most important event in San Francisco's colorful history. View clips from a number of Hollywood films -- some favorites and others unfamiliar -- recreating the event. On Wednesday, April 18, 1906, at  5:12 a.m. the earth shook, buildings collapsed, fires raged and the history of San Francisco was changed forever. Thrill to depictions of the devastation as Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald, Bette Davis, and other stars dodge falling bricks and chandeliers, searching for beloved survivors.In addition to contemporary newsreel footage, the program includes the recently rediscovered silent When The Earth Trembled (1913), Frisco Jenny (1932), San Francisco (1936), The Sisters (1938), and more. Through early special effects and masterful film editing, the cataclysmic event becomes a plot point in many feature films.

6/18/24 "The Golden Gate Bridge on the Silver Screen"

            The Golden Gate Bridge has starred in possibly more movies than any other American architectural structure. From its construction to multiple destructions, the Bay Area’s beloved bridge is depicted in this clip-filled program. Not just used to establish a film’s setting, we’ll see the bridge as a character, often a means of entrance to or escape from the urban landscape. Frequently threatened by sea monsters, natural disasters, or supervillains, sometimes saved by superheroes, it has been traversed by suicidal Volkswagens and homicidal apes. Using location shooting or animation or CGI, the iconic bridge has played a wide variety of roles. From Stranded (1935), while the bridge was still under construction, to Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), the iconic span appears in wide range of films including VertigoDark PassageSupermanStar TrekTime After TimeIt Came from Beneath the SeaLove BugA View to a KillMonsters vs. AliensInterview with a Vampire, and X-Men: The Last Stand

6/25/24 "Alcatraz on the Silver Screen"

            Shortly after Alcatraz opened as a federal prison in 1934, its role as a setting for movies began. From Alcatraz Island (1937) through Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) Hollywood depicted life on the isolated island. After the prison closed in 1963, a new era began. Point Blank (1967) was the first to actually film in the deserted facility, followed by such memorable titles as The Enforcer (1974) Escape from Alcatraz (1979), The Rock (1996) and X-Men: The Last Stand (2006).This clip-filled program — featuring both comedies and thrillers — depicts how the infamous prison has appeared on screen and became one of the bay area’s most popular tourist attractions.


Jim Van Buskirk - Website

Cinematic San Francisco Resource List - online bibliography of books, DVDs and websites talked about in the lecture series.

Cinematic San Francisco Film List - A SFPL created list of many of the films talked about in Jim's presentations. Follow the links to find out how to borrow or stream.

banner image credits:

It Came From Beneath the Sea movie poster / 1955 Columbia Pictures

San Francisco movie poster / 1936 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer


Hosted by the Art, Music and Recreation Center and the San Francisco History Center 


Shaping San Francisco 

Shaping San Francisco

Tenderloin Museum

Tenderloin Museum

Roxie Theater

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Engage with your favorite writers and discover your next read.

Watch party and film discussions. 

Summer Stride is the Library's annual summer learning, reading and exploration program for all ages and abilities. Read and learn with the Library all summer long.

This program is sponsored by Friends of the San Francisco Public Library.



Attending Programs

For questions about the program or help registering, contact sfplcpp@sfpl.orgAll programs are drop-in (no registration necessary) unless otherwise noted. All SFPL locations are wheelchair accessible. For accommodations (such as ASL), call (415) 557-4557 or contact accessibility@sfpl.org. Requesting at least 3 business days in advance will help ensure availability.

Notice: This event may be filmed or photographed. By participating in this event, you consent to have your likeness used for the Library’s archival purposes and promotional materials. If you do not want to be photographed, please inform a staff person or the photographer. A sticker will be provided to help identify you so that we can avoid capturing your image.

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The views and opinions expressed in programs presented by groups unaffiliated with SFPL do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SFPL or the City.