by Lauren Kawana

Dogtown Redemption, a documentary film about Oakland’s shopping cart recyclers, is partnering with Street Spirit, the East Bay’s homeless newspaper, to create an innovative model for telling, selling and distributing stories from the community.
Dogtown Redemption and Street Spirit are shifting the media landscape by replacing traditional DVD distribution and streaming models with Street Spirit’s network of over 100 homeless street vendors.
In May, DVDs of Dogtown Redemption will be available from vendors with a special Dogtown Redemption issue of Street Spirit for $10.00. All proceeds go directly to the vendors. The pilot project is intended to make the life and work of the poor visible through their own voices and media.
Shot over seven years, Dogtown Redemption, a film by Amir Soltani and Chihiro Wimbush, takes us on a journey through a landscape of love and loss, devotion and addiction, prejudice and poverty. The story of the three recyclers—Jason, Landon and Hayok—provides a rare glimpse into the conflicts over race, class and space shaping Oakland and other American cities.
The film is an intimate look into the lives of “America’s unseen,” and was funded by California Humanities, Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program, San Francisco Foundation, and the Berkeley Film Foundation, among others.
Street Spirit is devoting its entire May issue to Dogtown Redemption, focusing on the film and the homeless recyclers it documents. Coverage also includes articles about the City of Oakland’s plans to shut down Alliance Metals, the West Oakland recycling center, in August 2016—and the consequences for hundreds of recyclers for whom Alliance Metals has been a lifeline.
“The recyclers in our film taught us to look at the poverty through the prism of potential, agency and creativity, not prejudice and pity,” said filmmaker Amir Soltani. “We wanted to have our work aligned with media that is serving the people we were filming. Street Spirit is not just a newspaper. It is where our film lives. It is where our subjects are heard and seen. It is also where they fall and where they rise, where they are remembered and reborn long after they die. The face and the heart, the sweat and the tears, the light and the energy of an entire universe radiates through its pages. It is home—where our stories and struggles belong.”
Street Spirit Editor Terry Messman said the poor and homeless are too often treated as discarded waste products swept out of their own neighborhoods. “Poor people in West Oakland have lives that are as meaningful and as important as any lives in America. We have covered Dogtown Redemption in Street Spirit for a couple of years. This film is fighting to restore their dignity and humanity on the national stage and we want to support that with every bit of energy we can give.”
“It has been said that a film isn’t really finished until it is shared with its audience,” said Rahdi Taylor, Film Fund Director for the Sundance Film Institute Documentary. “The collaboration between Dogtown Redemption and Street Spirit strikes a landmark strategy for bringing this timely film to the audience it was made for. In the process, Street Spirit is extending its micro-economic opportunities for its sellers.”
The collaboration comes just two weeks ahead of Dogtown Redemption’s national broadcast on the critically acclaimed PBS series Independent Lens on Monday, May 16th at 10 p.m.
About Street Spirit
Street Spirit is a publication of the American Friends Service Committee that has reported extensively on homelessness, poverty, economic inequality, welfare issues, human rights issues, and the struggle for social justice in the Bay Area for 21 years. Street Spirit provides homeless people with a voice which cannot be found in the mainstream media.
About the film
Shot over seven years, Dogtown Redemption, takes us on a journey through a landscape of love and loss, devotion and addiction, prejudice and poverty.  The story of the three recyclers—Jason, Landon, and Hayok–provides a rare glimpse into the conflicts over race, class, and space shaping Oakland and other American cities.
About the filmmakers
Amir Soltani is the Producer and Co-Director of Dogtown Redemption.  Amir is an Iranian-American human rights activist.  He has worked in journalism, philanthropy, and business. Before moving to West Oakland, Amir worked on civil society projects and micro-enterprise in Afghanistan. He is the author of Zahra’s Paradise, a New York Times Bestselling graphic novel on Iran’s 2009 protests.
Chihiro Wimbush is a hapa, Oakland-based filmmaker.  Most recently he served as editor of the award-winning film Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm.  With his wife Meena Srinivasan, he creates mindful media and education content via their nonprofit organization, A Lens Inside.

A scene from Dogtown Redemption.
A scene from Dogtown Redemption.


Dogtown Redemption Film Credits

Produced by AMIR SOLTANI
Director of Photography: CHIHIRO WIMBUSH
Associate Producer: ZACHARY STICKNEY
Color Finishing: GARY COATES

Thanks to

We are deeply grateful to Terry Messman, Lauren Kawana, Zachary Stickney and our many friends, supporters and guest contributors for this special edition of Street Spirit.
Thanks to Street Spirit writers and artists for their contributions! THANK YOU Lydia Gans, Carol Denney, Janny Castillo, Daniel McMullan, Leon Kennedy, Marjorie Witt, Lauren Kawana, Keith Arivnwine, Lee Romney, Rahdi Taylor, John Lightfoot, Teslim Ikharo, Larry Rosenthal
Thank you
Lou & Abou, for breathing life into a dream of healing.
Jamie, Geralyn, Regina, Denise and Deinaz for your vision, love and guidance.
Meena & Chihiro for your boundless compassion.
Michael & Naomi for your deep friendship.
Manuel, Ray, Pete, Jim, Joyce, Suzanne and Bo, for your many gifts.
Jason, Heather, Landon, Hayok, Ros and friends for this journey.
Thanks to vendor coordinator J.C. Orton and Street Spirit vendors
— Blessings, Amir Soltani