Gentrify This

“Company Town” opens Oct. 28 at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood.


Aaron Peskin, left, on the campaign trail in documentary "Company Town."

Snitow-Kaufman Productions

We have a tendency to lament alterations in our city, even though change incites excitement. Perhaps it’s the rate of change that’s so disturbing, especially a last decade fueled by technological innovation, venture capital, and low interest rates. Even San Franciscans, who’ve long had a reputation for embracing progress—from unions to beat poetry to LBGTQ rights to feminist activism—are clamoring in ever-larger numbers for measures to preserve the city’s character before it’s completely steamrolled by the likes of Airbnb and Uber.

Company Town, the latest street-level documentary by veteran Berkeley filmmakers Deborah Kaufman and Alan Snitow (Thirst), joins the debate via last fall’s S.F. supervisor race between incumbent Julie Christensen, appointed by unwaveringly pro-business Mayor Ed Lee, and stalwart liberal Aaron Peskin, a one-time supe who sides with constituents over corporations. The filmmakers follow the candidates on the campaign trial through North Beach and Chinatown, hearing from residents threatened with displacement by property owners plotting Airbnb conversions.

S.F. Examiner reporter Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez takes us on a tour of the Mission—the most rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in the city—for a glimpse of the lifestyles of the smartphone-addicted tech workers who’ve flooded the town. Meanwhile, Uber and taxi drivers debate the real beneficiary of the so-called “sharing economy.” (A hint, courtesy of Las Vegas: The house always wins.)

San Francisco may be the first major U.S. metropolis to engage in this vociferous and ferocious debate about its future, but Oakland, Berkeley, and many other cities are wide awake to the side effects of the convenient tyranny of Life With Apps. Wherever you live, Company Town aims to facilitate a throwback activity: face-to-face discussion. Now that’s exciting.

Company Town, opens Oct. 28; Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, 2966 College Ave., Berkeley, 510-433-9730,

This report was published in the October edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.             

Published online on Oct. 24, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.

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