A short doc produced by Hélène Goupil, Still I Rise and Mission Local

Valerie Tulier-Laiwa plays many roles: Mama bear, community organizer, lowrider. 

Soon, she’ll play those parts on the big screen: The old-school Mission elder is the main character in a film coming to the Roxie Theater in San Francisco’s Documentary Film Festival. 

“The Mission,” a short film directed by Hélène Goupil and produced by Goupil, Mission Local, and Still I Rise Films, will screen Saturday, June 4, as part of a series of short films called “Bay Area Resilience.”  

The scenes of “The Mission” take viewers through a sort of “day in the life,” where Tulier-Laiwa is a study in resilience. 

Flashback footage from the 1980s shows a young Tulier-Laiwa cruising through the neighborhood and describing lowrider culture with the same cool and collected voice she has today. 

“I’m gonna make you see me,” she says. 

Valerie Tulier-Laiwa with Peter Khoury at the Alabama testing hub on a recent Thursday in March, 2021. Photo by Lydia Chávez.

Tulier-Laiwa candidly discusses the traumas of her past and how they set her on a path to eventually help change the direction of San Francisco’s once-floundering pandemic response. 

“Your trauma can help you empathize with other people,” she says to the camera. Her early life struggles informed her ability to mobilize the Latino community and her deep roots in the city eventually helped her and her childhood friends get city backing. 

Over time, the powerful organization of community groups that became the Latino Task Force allied with the doctors and researchers at UCSF and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital to spread the testing and care in the Mission and to other communities. 

​​“She’s really driven by helping the community, and she never stops, honestly,” said Goupil, who connected with Tulier-Laiwa through Mission Local’s reporting on the Latino Task Force and its organizers. “For me, it’s just a matter of keeping up with her and what she’s doing.”

While making the short documentary, Goupil, who has also worked at Mission Local, was part of a group of women fellows funded and mentored by Mimi Chakarova, a documentary filmmaker who runs Still I Rise Films. Chakarova is also Mission Local’s multimedia advisor.

Between shots of her directing workers and leading meetings, Tulier-Laiwa is seen outside her childhood home in the Mission, buying conchas at the bakery for her granddaughter, laughing and dancing with fellow community members. 

The 21st San Francisco Documentary Film Festival will run from June 1 through June 12. Thirty-six features and 58 shorts will play live, and in on-demand virtual screenings. Most filmmakers will be on site for Q&A sessions at in-person screenings

Tulier-Laiwa and Goupil will speak at a live Q&A after the showing on June 4. To buy a ticket, you can go here.

More information about the festival can be found here.

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REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim over eight years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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