Countdown to Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema’s Sweet 16 Celebration

Bernal-Heights-Outdoor-Cinema-screening-at-Precita-Park-by-Audrey-Ray-Daniel-Aray-Studio, Countdown to Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema’s Sweet 16 Celebration, Culture Currents
At the annual “Under the Stars at Precita Park,” Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema screens a family-friendly program of films in Precita Park, at Precita Avenue and Folsom Street, San Francisco. This year, come Saturday, Sept. 7, at 6 p.m. – Photo: Audrey Ray Daniel, Aray Studio

Watch two of the films for this years festival, a short documentary on LEJ (Literacy for Environmental Justice) and James Parker Pennington’s ‘Sketch’ below

by Betsey Scheiner

San Francisco – For the past 15 years, Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema (BHOC) has marked the onset of autumn with free screenings and live music in parks and venues around “The Hill.” As this year’s festival celebrates BHOC’s 16th season, it reaffirms its presence in the local landscape and recalls its place in local film history.

The 16th annual BHOC festival is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 6; Saturday, Sept. 7; and Saturday, Sept. 14. The line-up is posted online. Take a look at the BHOC website for a complete program showcasing close to 40 local filmmakers, five co-presenting film festivals and organizations and countless other artists involved with film, video, music and performing arts.

When the film festival originated in 2004, the Bernal Heights neighborhood supported a largely underserved and working-class population, ethnically and socially diverse, living in affordable housing stock that included public housing, Section 8 units and moderate-income complexes. At that time, Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema was staged with the intention of offering much-needed free, accessible entertainment in the form of film screenings in under-utilized parks and playgrounds.

Today the neighborhood has become gentrified with new homeowners and renters able to afford housing in what has recently been cited by online real estate website Zillow as “the hottest neighborhood in the country.” Nonetheless, the residents in the nearby public housing developments and surrounding moderate-income housing remain, and it is this community that BHOC strives to serve first.

What began as a little seat-of-the-pants enterprise has turned into a neighborhood institution. Long-time Bernal residents like Ann Henry have become regulars. “A favorite for me is the Friday night Film Crawl along Cortland – grabbing a bag of free hot popcorn, seeing so many neighbors, and then slipping into one of the shop venues to enjoy a collection of always unique and interesting short movies,” she said.

BHOC is a neighborhood production

Film Crawl on Cortland opens the festival Friday, Sept. 6, from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. with simultaneous screenings in six venues on Cortland Avenue – the local branch library, the neighborhood community center, a café, an art gallery, an outdoor restaurant courtyard and a photographer’s studio.

This year film-lovers are invited to continue their cinematic experience after the show with a Pub Crawl designed by the knowledgeable folks at Beer by BART. Carrying a BHOC passport, they will receive discounted drinks at neighborhood bars and have an opportunity to talk with some of the filmmakers.

Under the Stars at Precita Park on Saturday, Sept. 7, offers another chance to mingle with the filmmakers – a meetup! BHOC filmmakers are Bernal neighbors, friends, multi-media artists, film and video techs, digital buffs, special effects experts and many others. Site sponsor and architect Mason Kirby will open his office doors at 306 Precita Ave. from 6:00 to 7:00 for past and current filmmakers to gather, meet and greet film-lovers and other guests. It’s a community affair – everyone is welcome.

Even the music at Under the Stars is local. As film-lovers and families gather in Precita Park and wait for the screening to begin at 8:00, they will be entertained by HOME, a group of hometown musicians whose funk-rock-blues-jazz sounds are familiar to “The Hill.”

BHOC looks to the future from deep historical roots

The celebration rounds out with a Sweet 16 Party and Retrospective at Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, 2868 Mission St. on Saturday, Sept. 14, at 3:00 p.m. The event opens with a presentation of awards for this year’s “best” films and a screening of these films. (The winners are listed below.)

And then the party looks backward, showing seven of BHOC’s award-winning films from 2013 to 2018. They include:

Amir Jaffer’s “All Things Considered” (2015), in which the artistic journey of a photographer takes him to the back corners of trashy dollar stores and dingy Chinese markets to capture consumerist scenes abounding with cheap plastics and stinking fish. Jaffer later went on to win the L’Age d’Or International Arthouse Film Festival in 2019 for his film “Chances.”

Anabella Mortenson’s “Cloud Runner” (2017), a film in which a girl living in an arid landscape chases a cloud. Or is she being followed by it? At the time she made the film, Mortenson was a student at Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts.

Emiko Omori’s “When Rabbit Left the Moon” (2017), an experimental film in which contemporary footage of a journey into a harsh landscape combines with excerpts from official documents to create a wordless expression of life in an internment camp. This video poem continues the story told in Omori’s “Rabbit in the Moon,” a film that won the Best Documentary Cinematography Award at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival as well as an Emmy Award in the same year.

Schedule of events

Sept. 6: Film Crawl on Cortland. This year’s festival opens on Friday, Sept. 6, in six venues on Cortland Avenue. Each venue screens a distinctly individual program of films representing a different theme or group, with the line-up of films repeated at 7:00, 8:00 and 9:00 p.m. As in the past, films are shown in the following venues:

  • Inclusions Gallery
  • Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center
  • San Francisco Public Library Bernal Branch
  • Progressive Grounds
  • Bernal Star
  • Kingmond Young Photography

Sept. 7: Under the Stars at Precita Park. On Saturday, Sept. 7, BHOC features a family-friendly program of films in Precita Park, located at Precita Avenue and Folsom Street, San Francisco. The setting is a traditional “outdoor cinema” venue, where local musical artists as well as filmmakers are featured. This year HOME provides the music. The event has long been the festival’s outdoor showcase, and its image appears in countless publications. It will be preceded by a meetup of filmmakers and film-lovers at architect Mason Kirby’s offices at 306 Precita Ave.

Sept. 14: Sweet 16 Party and Retrospective. On Saturday, Sept. 14, from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m., BHOC tops off the festival with a wingding of a celebration at Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, 2868 Mission St., San Francisco. Admission is free. The event opens with a presentation and screening of the 2019 season awards:

  • Best of Bernal Award. Chosen by the Submissions and Selection Committee and given to a local Bernal filmmaker for the best of this year’s submissions. Awarded to Brett Marty for “The Fiddler,” in which a tech pioneer, facing a deadly illness, finds meaning in music as he prepares for his unexpected final act.
  • Spirit of Bernal Award. Awarded by the Submission and Selection Committee to a non-Bernal filmmaker for the film that best resonates with the sentiment and sensibility (political, social, physical locale) of Bernal Heights. Awarded to Vahan Bedelian for “Jacob and Malika,” in which a Muslim girl moves to the U.S.: She falls in love with the boy next door, and they attempt to keep their relationship alive in an increasingly hostile culture.
  • Bright Star, Emerging Filmmaker Award. Selected by the Submission and Selection Committee and awarded to a member of the future generation of storytellers, with the expectation that the winner will make a significant contribution to the art of film and video in the course of her/his/their filmmaking career. Awarded to Monica Menor for “Crossing Limits,” in which a young girl living in a religious household gets pregnant and runs away to get an abortion.
  • Good Life Audience Award. Awarded by vote of the at-large BHOC audience following the conclusion of the season.

First the present, and then the past. The screening of this year’s award winners is followed by a screening of seven of BHOC’s award-winning films from 2013 to 2018.

And then the party begins. Guests mingle with filmmakers, listen to the sweet sounds of local musicians and enjoy refreshments. The evening ends with a raised glass to toast the 16th year of Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema.

Betsey Scheiner, who heads Media Relations for Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema, can be reached at For more information about Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema, visit,, or The complete line-up of films is here:

James Parker Pennington’s “Sketch.” An artist breaks his leg skateboarding, forcing him to stay inside his home until he heals. Unable to go out, he loses inspiration and can no longer sketch anything in his notebook. With the help of his friend, he eventually leaves his home and regains his inspiration and happiness. James Parker Pennington was born and raised here in San Francisco in Monterey Heights and now lives in Hunters Point. Many of his friends live in the Bernal Hill area, so he spends a lot of time there, Bernal Heights holding a special place in his heart. Film has always been a keen interest of his and he is proud to present his newest work, “Sketch.” The filmmaker won the Good Life Audience Award in 2018 for “What Goes Around” (posted below). Both “Literacy for Environmental Justice” and “Sketch” will be shown on Saturday, Sept. 7, in Precita Park.

Literacy for Environmental Justice: Cultivating Youth Leaders in Southeast San Francisco from Kristin Tieche on Vimeo.

Kristin Tieche’s documentary “Literacy for Environmental Justice: Cultivating Youth Leaders in Southeast San Francisco”: Bayview Hunters Point in Southeast San Francisco has been on the front lines of the environmental justice movement since the 1940s. This short documentary film follows three environmental youth leaders who are changing the world, starting with their neighborhood. Kristin Tieche is an award-winning filmmaker whose work has aired on National Geographic, Smithsonian Channel, Science Channel, Al Jazeera America, PBS and more.

James Parker Pennington’s “What Goes Around.” Karma rides a bicycle. This is the film that won the Good Life Audience Award in 2018.