Guy Clark has long been a fixture in the LGBTQ+ community and in the Castro, where he’s sold flowers on Noe and 15th streets for four decades, and a documentary short depicting Clark’s life, titled The Seed, will premiere at the Roxie this Sunday.
The following Q&A was held with Clark and the short’s director and producer, former Mission Local editor Hélène Goupil. It’s been edited and condensed for clarity, and due to its length.
The Seed provides an intimate glimpse into Clark’s life as Goupil films and interviews the proprietor in 2010 and 2020. Clark reflects on what he’s seen, and how he grappled with eviction, poverty and homelessness as an older, disabled man in one of the world’s unaffordable cities.
The short will be a part of the 6:45 p.m. showing for San Francisco Independent Short Film Festival. Tickets can be purchased here.
You can also watch it online from Sept. 17 to 26 at the same link. It will also play at SF Shorts’ online festival from Oct. 7 to 9. There will be another screening at the United Nations Association International Film Festival from Oct. 21 to 31, with details to be released here.
Mission Local: You met more than a decade ago! How did you meet, and how has your relationship — as the person behind the camera and the person in front of it — developed over the years?
Goupil: I first met Guy in 2010 and interviewed him for a class assignment. I was studying at U.C. Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, and my husband, Josh, suggested I go by and chat with Guy. Josh would buy flowers from him.
The more I spoke to Guy, the more I wanted to know about him. So, after the assignment, I started visiting him and little by little, he shared his story with me.
At the time, Guy had been evicted from his apartment in Duboce Triangle, which is also where he’s had his flower stand since 1982. He was 61 years old and was looking for housing, struggling to find anything affordable.
Our relationship has evolved into a friendship. I enjoy spending time with him, whether the camera is on or not.
Clark: I was able to adopt Helene’s family, her husband and their kids. It’s something that I don’t have in life, something that almost completed my life. Being out there and selling flowers and seeing these kids grow up is something that I didn’t think I’d be able to do, being able to be part of people’s lives, watching these kids learn how to walk, go to school, get educated, become successful.
Just the other day, I had a guy stop by. I was a little uncomfortable at first because he kept hugging me. He said “Hi, Uncle Guy,” and I looked at him and I didn’t know who he was. Evidently he knows me, I thought, and then he told me his name was Charlie. I said, “Little Charlie, the guy who I taught colors to?” And then I hugged him and squeezed him. I guess he was four years old when I met him. His mom was a ballet teacher, and she used to come down that street. I went to his graduation and then I saw him go to college and get married. And now he’s a very successful person in the tech industry. I was just as proud of him as his father must be when he sees him.
Mission Local: You made your first video on Guy Clark 11 years ago. When did you decide to turn this into a bigger project?
Goupil: I thought about doing a longer piece on Guy because I wanted people to get to know his story.
I had been working with Mimi Chakarova on documentaries, and I told her that I wanted to film Guy again. One of the beautiful things about this project is that Mimi was my teacher in graduate school, and I did the first piece on Guy for her class in 2010, so she knew who he was, and she was excited to help me work on this project for Still I Rise Films and beyond.
Then the idea for animation came when I was editing the film, and I feel so lucky that Theint Soe agreed to animate it for me.
Guy has an important story to share. When we hear about homelessness and cities changing, we need to think about what that means for the people around us. We need to think about who is getting pushed out.
Reading about homelessness and evictions is one thing, but documentary film allows us to really see someone’s life. In my case, this film was a window into Guy’s life and the adversity he faced in one of the wealthiest cities in the world.
Mission Local: Explain the metaphor of the seed, and at what part of the process you or Guy came up with it.
Goupil: Mimi Chakarova actually suggested it one day, and I loved it.
Mission Local: Did the story turn out as you expected?
Goupil: You never know what will happen in life. When I first interviewed Guy, I didn’t expect to make a film about him 10 years later, but I’m glad I did.
Mission Local: Let’s talk about the release. Why this fall at the Roxie?
Goupil: I really wanted to bring Guy to a screening in San Francisco. I wanted to celebrate him and give his friends and community a chance to honor him. I’m so glad I get to go to an in-person screening at the Roxie, and I feel fortunate that the film was selected to be in the San Francisco Independent Short Film Festival.
Mission Local: In the time you were homeless, you expressed bitterness and anger over your eviction and the lack of housing support that was available after. But you told other media you became stronger as you realized that where you live doesn’t define who you are. Tell me about the process that led to your realizing and accepting that.
Clark: The process was me having this senior citizen who shared with me her values in life — her telling me that because I had lost my home and I had lost my workspace, it didn’t define who I really was.
I also had to still be strong for my friends. Just because I lost my home, I couldn’t show any signs of weakness. If anything, losing my home and my workplace made me stronger, more determined to succeed. And success wasn’t defined by the kind of car that one drives. Success is defined by who you really are.
Mission Local: Have you watched the documentary? If you have, what are your thoughts, and if not, how do you feel about it?
Clark: Yes, I watched the documentary, and I’m beside myself. I never thought at that 73, I would be able to share my story and that it could help other people.
I’m glad we had a chance to expose what cities do to poor, disabled and senior citizens by taking over their homes and pushing them out with no chance of them coming back to their neighborhood. It’s important for this message to make it to people who are in politics so they’re aware of what they’re doing. To have all these new places built is wonderful, but people are being priced out of their communities, and you have to ask yourself what happened to the people who used to live here.
I feel like the documentary is a step in the right direction. It makes us aware of what we’re doing to our cities, to the people who live in our city.