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Dreams of a City documentary airs April 14

Dreams of a City: Creating East Palo Alto, a video co-produced by Academic Software Development, Stanford University Libraries and the Committee on Black Performing Arts, will be broadcast for the first time at 10 p.m. Monday, April 14, on San Jose's public television station KTEH, Channel 54.

Following its KTEH broadcast, the video will have a Los Angeles premiere at the American Cinematheque on May 22, and also will be shown in Hawaii at the Council on Foundations Film and Video Festival. It also will be offered on the Stanford Channel.

A major effort to redefine the relationship between Stanford University and East Palo Alto, the one-hour documentary represents a collaboration of several years between Stanford staff, students and faculty, and community members. Drawing on interviews with residents, archival footage and scenes from daily life, the film is a portrait of the city that once was described as the "murder capital of the nation," but now is working to address long-standing economic problems by creating jobs and a tax base.

Dreams of a City begins with a look at the utopian agricultural community of Runnymede and the Charles Weeks poultry farm in the 1920s, moves on to the block busting of the 1950s and examines the movement for community control in the 1960s, when the unincorporated community was informally renamed Nairobi to reflect its largely African American identity. The video focuses on the 1983 efforts to incorporate East Palo Alto as its own city, and shows how African American, Latino, Pacific Islander and white residents now are planning for a major shopping center on some of the last undeveloped land in the area.

The documentary concludes with reflections on the challenges the community faces in achieving economic success while maintaining its multicultural identity.

"What's happening here in East Palo Alto, how we go through our growing pains as a community, the fact that we have diversity here, is something that the whole state is going to go through very soon," community activist Ruben Abrica says in the film. "The extent to which we can move ahead is a reflection of where our country is going."

More than 80 hours of interviews, now archived at the Committee on Black Performing Arts' Harmony House, were conducted to produce the video segments for the film.

"I always thought we were a very diverse community, but it's much more extensive than I'd realized," said Elena Becks, program assistant at the Committee on Black Performing Arts and a lifelong resident of East Palo Alto, who conducted a number of oral interviews. "Everyone I interviewed had a different piece of the whole picture, a new perspective."

Funded primarily by the Stanford University Libraries, Dreams of a City also received support from the Office of the Provost, the School of Humanities and Sciences, the Haas Center for Public Service, the James Irvine Foundation Multicultural Grant, the Bing Teaching Initiative, the Black Student Union and Undergraduate Research Opportunities. Foundation and corporate funders who provided support include the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Romic Environmental Technologies Corp., the Black Fund of the Peninsula Community Foundation, Cisco Systems and the Community Foundation of Santa Clara County.


By Diane Manuel