Dressed in a tight, grey skirt suit, the author Michelle Tea appears in her new movie mimicking a real estate agent, speaking excitedly and obnoxiously into a giant, antiquated cellphone, “The neighborhood is really nice, there are artists!”
The scene is perhaps the only one where we actually see Tea in her film Valencia: The Movie/s. Instead, Tea’s character is depicted by a wide range of some 18 different actors, each reenacting a separate episode from Tea’s youth, including late-night bar hopping and tumultuous romantic fights.
“There was no creative input from me at all,” Tea said on Thursday night during a screening at Adobe Books. “It was way more fun for me to see how Valencia was interpreted 20 years later by all these different people.”
The collaborative project brought together the author’s filmmaker friends to recreate scenes from her 2000 novel, Valencia, which pays tribute to the Mission District and Valencia Street of the ’90s. Each chapter of the book becomes a short film, with 20 filmmakers in all shooting scenes of Tea’s love affairs and comedic failures.
Natasha Wilder, a recent transplant from the Los Angeles area, came to the screening because she was a fan of the book. “I just moved to San Francisco and in some ways it’s showing the San Francisco that was, a romanticized version. It is honoring the history of the Mission.”
The film primarily concentrates on the micro-dramas of Tea’s tight clique of friends and girlfriends, but scenes that break away provide an excellent sense of how critical it is that such dramas are played out within San Francisco. In one chapter we see Tea basking in the celebratory air of the Pride parade and the Dyke March, concerned only that she may run into an ex. But in a later chapter when she leaves the city to visit the Midwest with her girlfriend, Tea is prohibited from displaying affection in front of the girlfriend’s family and is taunted after sneaking a kiss by an isolated bridge.
The Mission also played a vital role in Tea’s creation of the book. “I wrote a lot of Valencia right in a coffee shop next to Adobe that no longer exists,” Tea said, referring to their previous location at 3166 16th Street off of Valencia where they did business for 25 years. Rising rents forced Adobe to relocate this summer to 24th Street. Tea too faced rent hikes in the neighborhood and relocated three years ago to the Lower Haight.
The audience of 30 people represented a mix of newcomers and Mission veterans, though several who had experienced the neighborhood two decades ago have relocated. The director of photography for one of the short films, Ilona Berger, spent 10 years in San Francisco but decided to leave the Mission for Los Angeles a few years ago.
Berger attended the screening with her friend, Andrew Wingler, who has stayed in the Mission. But after 19 years of living here, he is also contemplating moving on. “Sometimes I feel like I am chasing a San Francisco that doesn’t exist anymore,” Wingler said.
For information on future screenings of Michelle Tea’s Valencia: The Movie/s please check the film’s Facebook page