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Documenting Oakland's Originals

A new documentary series aims to build community and pride in Oakland by highlighting the creative talents of its residents.

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When Oakland resident Tim Monroe started inline skating around the city, it was mostly for the exercise. But as he kept exploring the areas around his Rockridge home, he got more ambitious, pushing himself to see how far he could go. He kept track of all the streets he had skated on a map, and eventually began to wonder, "What would it take to do it all?"

Monroe, who now claims to have traversed the entire city via inline skating, is one of four subjects featured in Oakland Originals, a new documentary series created by Jim McSilver and Erin Palmquist about Oakland's creative residents. McSilver had long been interested in making a documentary about Oaklanders who were pursuing unique ventures, but it wasn't until he applied for (and won) a grant through the city's Cultural Funding Program that his idea came to fruition. For the first four shorts of the series, he and co-producer Erin Palmquist chose to profile Asiya Wadud, the founder of Forage Oakland; Vanessa Solari Espinoza, a graffiti artist, DJ, and educator; Michael Christian, a metal sculptor; and Monroe.

Palmquist and McSilver wanted to highlight people who were pursuing projects that had a strong connection to the city. "They are part of the mosaic that makes up this really diverse city," said McSilver. "There are so many aspects to that tableau."

The films explore how Oakland provides each person with the opportunities, resources, and motivation to pursue their crafts. For example, Solari Espinoza discusses how meeting artists in Oakland inspired her to include more messages about social change in her street art, and Christian explains how the city's abundance of large, industrial spaces enables him to build his installations.

The series will premiere at the Grand Lake Theater (3200 Grand Ave., Oakland) on Thursday, May 29, followed by a discussion with the filmmakers and the subjects of the series and an after-party at Ordinaire Wine Shop & Wine Bar (3354 Grand Ave.) and Panorama Framing, Inc. (3350 Grand Ave.). The filmmakers hope the screening will prompt community input on whom they should feature next.

For McSilver and Palmquist, the series allowed them to see the city in a whole new light. "Traveling around with Tim doing inline skating, I found whole neighborhoods that I didn't even really know about," said McSilver. "I got to explore the city in ways I hadn't before."

The filmmakers hope the documentaries will have a similar effect on both local and nonlocal audiences. "The series is about introducing people to this diversity that exists in Oakland," said Palmquist. "There are so many people who never get exposed to areas beyond their immediate neighborhood. This series can inspire people to cross the invisible boundaries that we develop."

Screening at 6 p.m., $10. After-party at 7 p.m., donations accepted. OaklandOriginals.com

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