From left to right: stills from Homeroom, Crip Camp, I Can't Sleep, Futbolistas for Life, Blindspotting, and Labor.

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In 2018, the world got to see what Oakland filmmaking is all about thanks to projects such as the Hollywood blockbuster Black Panther, directed by Oakland filmmaker Ryan Coogler. Other films by local creators that made a buzz included Sorry To Bother You, directed by Boots Riley, and Blindspotting, directed by Carlos López Estrada and written by Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs. 

A lot has happened with those artists in the three years since their films were released: Ryan Coogler signed an exclusive five-year deal with The Walt Disney Company and Coogler’s Proximity Media, Rafael Casal, and Daveed Diggs teamed up with STARZ to produce a television series based on their 2018 film of the same name. The trailer dropped this week, and the show is set to debut on June 13. And last December, Amazon Studios ordered the comedy, I’m Virgo, created and written by Boots Riley.

Coogler, Casal, Diggs, and Riley are not the only filmmakers putting the Town on the map. There are other Oakland-based filmmakers whose projects you may not have heard about, which can be streamed or are soon to be released. 

We wanted to highlight some of the local filmmakers who, despite the pandemic, have managed to work on new projects and help ensure that Oakland filmmaking stays in the spotlight.

11 Oakland filmmakers with current projects you can watch now:

  1. James Lebrecht, Nicole Newnham – Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution

An Oscar-nominated documentary directed and produced by filmmakers James Lebrecht, Nicole Newnham, and Sara Bolder (LeBrecht’s wife). The documentary is about Camp Jened, a utopian summer camp in upstate New York for teenagers with disabilities. The film can be streamed on Netflix. 

  1. Niema JordanLabor, Women Making History, and The Me You Can’t See

The storyteller, filmmaker, and podcaster continues making a name for herself. Last year, she directed and produced the short film, Labor, an homage to Black mothers. Earlier this year, she was a producer on Lifetime’s Women Making History. Jordan was also a story producer on Oprah and Prince Harry’s documentary series, The Me You Can’t See, which is set to premiere May 21 on Apple TV+

  1. Gina Rose – I Can’t Sleep

Rose made her debut as a filmmaker with this film that she self-funded, wrote, produced, and directed. The movie tells the story of a young writer struggling to complete her science-fiction story while battling supernatural forces in real life. The independent film was part of the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival in February and the Golden State Film Festival in March. 

  1. Nijla Mu’MinBlack Prom and Blindspotting

This past March, award-winning writer and filmmaker, Mu’Min debuted her short film Black Prom as part of Netflix Film Club. The short film tells the story of a high school couple whose prom dreams are disrupted by a police encounter. Mu’Min is also part of the writer’s team for the new Blindspotting series, which will debut on June 13. She has directed episodes of Queen Sugar and Insecure and recently wrote for the upcoming series, Swagger. In 2018, she directed the award-winning feature film called Jinn.

  1. Jun Stinson – Futbolistas for Life

Last March, Stinson was scheduled to screen her documentary, Futbolistas for Life at Life Academy High School. The pandemic lockdown hindered that screening and all others planned for the spring and summer. Last year during the pandemic, Stinson was in New Mexico to field-produce the Epix original docuseries, By Whatever Means Necessary: The Times of Godfather of Harlem, which premiered on Nov. 8, 2020. She also produced the short, Running a Restaurant During the Coronavirus Lockdown, about chef Reem Assil and how she struggled to keep her restaurant afloat during the pandemic. The short will have a free virtual screening on May 23 as part of CAAM Conversation: Food and Community.

  1. Rafael Flores – E.14 and My People are Rising

Flores is the administrative director of the Hidden Gem Creative Studios and co-founder of the production company Green Eyed Media, both of which are located in Oakland. Last September, Flores wrote and directed the independent film, E.14. The film tells the intersected stories of a sex worker, an undocumented teen, a reformed pimp, a homeless Black youth, and an elderly Chinese woman struggling to survive displacement out of East Oakland’s International Boulevard. The film can be streamed through Amazon Prime. Flores also directed the documentary, My People are Rising, a story based on the autobiography of a 19-year-old Seattle Black Panther captain named Aaron Dixon. The film can be streamed for free through Tubi. 

  1. Emily Cohen IbañezFruits of Labor

Latinx filmmaker Ibañez wrote (alongside Ashley Solis Pavon) and directed this documentary about a young farmworker in Watsonville and her aspirations to be the first one in her family to go to college. The documentary premiered at SXSW virtually earlier this year. It will have its first in-person screening on June 3 in Los Angeles as part of the Official Selection of the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF). There’s also a virtual screening on June 6. It will play online in the 20th San Francisco Documentary Festival  June 3-20 and live at the Roxie Theater on June 12.

  1. Rodrigo Reyes – 499 
A 16th-century conquistador (Eduardo San Juan) sits among migrants in 21st century Mexico in Rodrigo Reyes’ “499.” Credit: courtesy

Reyes is the co-Director of the Bay Area Media Coalition (BAVC Mediamaker Fellowship) with Niema Jordan. His work focuses on migration, colonial history, and criminal justice. His latest docu-fiction project, 499, refers to the 500-year anniversary of the Spanish conquest of Mexico and is a deep dive into the legacy of colonialism in that country. The film was selected for the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival where it won the award for best cinematography in the documentary competition. You can watch the trailer here. The feature film will be released later this summer in theatres

  1. Tevin TavaresTop Class: The Life and Times of the Sierra Canyon Trailblazers

Award-winning writer, director, and producer Tavares is the director behind this series, streamed on Amazon’s IMDb TV. The series offers a behind-the-scenes look at this competitive private high school basketball team in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Chatsworth. 

  1. Peter Nicks – Homeroom

Nicks’ Oakland trilogy on health care, criminal justice, and education concludes with this documentary that followed Oakland High School’s class of 2020 as they navigated the pandemic and online learning. The film was an official selection at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The film was also executive produced by Ryan Coogler and will make its streaming debut on Hulu later this year. 

  1. Mario Bobino – My Culture

This film directed by Bobino tells the story of an interracial couple from East Oakland and the disapproval of their families. The film can be streamed through Tubi.

Other projects by Oakland-based filmmakers not currently streaming but worth keeping an eye out for include: Alex Bledsoe’s Oaklead, Benjamin Mulholland’s The Lake Merritt Monster (currently in post-production), Jessica Jones’ Women Who Ride (scheduled to be released this fall), and Lucas Guilkey’s What Happened to Dujuan Armstrong?

Clarification: Jinn was Nijla Mu’Min‘s debut feature film.

Azucena Rasilla is an East Oakland native, a bilingual journalist reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.