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SAN FRANCISCO — This June, come see our City take its star turn on the celluloid screen with the event series Cinematic San Franciscohosted by Jim Van Buskirk at San Francisco Public Library (SFPL). Van Buskirk, historian, luminary and co-author of Celluloid San Francisco: The Film Lover’s Guide to Bay Area Movie Locations, invites film fans to discover and appreciate historic footage captured in beloved—as well as forgotten—films.

"Growing up near Hollywood, my fascination with movie locations solidified while visiting Grant Avenue as a kid in 1962 having seen Flower Drum Song,” said Van Buskirk. “Years later, I co-authored Celluloid San Francisco with my equally-movie-obsessed friend Will Shank. Now I'm excited to share this special series of four separate programs featuring many new excerpts in my ongoing research about San Francisco’s special role in film and television.”

For four consecutive Tuesday evenings, Van Buskirk lays out an engaging, entertaining and educational syllabus-of-sorts designed to make participants experts on local film trivia. Consider him your Virgil who will quickly make you an expert in local film trivia. The series begins with a general overview of the Bay Area in film and television, then narrows the focus to representations of the 1906 earthquake, before traversing the Golden Gate Bridge and finally landing on Alcatraz Island.

“Jim is a local treasure. This fantastic series is a perfect lens to learn more about San Francisco history and the impact the City has had on film history,” said Christina Moretta, photo curator at SFPL’s San Francisco History Center. “Anyone who finds their curiosity piqued should check out our growing collection of historic photos on or visit the Art, Music and Recreation Center's film resources on the 4th floor of the Main Library.”

Van Buskirk partnered closely with the participatory community history project Shaping San Francisco and the Tenderloin Museum to help get the word out to local communities. 

“To celebrate our 25th anniversary year, we have enjoyed partnering on programming with local luminaries like Jim Van Buskirk to highlight the wealth of historical knowledge being done every day. Jim's ‘Cinematic San Francisco’ is a love letter to our City,” said LisaRuth Elliott, co-director of Shaping San Francisco.

“Jim gets the ‘big picture’ of San Francisco history,” said Alex Spoto, Tenderloin Museum’s program director. “Deftly synthesizing his encyclopedic knowledge of SF onscreen, Jim illuminates the connections between our singular city's built environment and its personae through deeply informative and entertaining presentations.”

The program lineup includes the following:

"San Francisco on the Silver Screen", June 4, 6 p.m., Main Library, Koret Auditorium 

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, California 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.

"Hollywood Shakes San Francisco", June 11, 6 p.m., Main Library, Koret Auditorium

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.

"The Golden Gate Bridge on the Silver Screen", June 18, 6 p.m., Main Library, Koret Auditorium

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, 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

"Alcatraz on the Silver Screen", June 25, 6 p.m., Main Library, Koret Auditorium

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.

May 17, 2024