From left to right: Benjamin Mulholland, Laura Wagner, and Peter Nicks.

Over the past decade, local filmmakers have put Oakland on the Hollywood map. Films such as Fruitvale Station, Moneyball, Sorry to Bother You, and Black Panther have placed the city at the center of socially conscious dramas, political satires, and the Marvel Universe. 

It isn’t just Hollywood blockbusters achieving this success. Peter Nicks’ documentary trilogy—The Waiting Room, The Force, and Homeroom— has further proven there is an appetite for stories about Oakland.

But while Oakland has become a subject and setting of major movies, and while it continues to produce talented directors, writers, and actors, a lot of the work that goes into creating these films is done somewhere else. Besides a few street scenes, lots of production is done in warehouses and backlots in Los Angeles, New Mexico, or Georgia. Lots of film crew staffers are recruited from industry hubs in these and other cities.

What would it take to make Oakland a thriving filmmaking hub? Who are the people behind the scenes working on establishing this kind of infrastructure here? What are some of the roadblocks they face? 

There’s a budding industry of local people who want to take Oakland’s film game to the next level.  

We’ve invited the perfect guests to explore these questions and more at our next Culture Makers event, happening on Dec. 15 at the New Parkway Theater. And we’ve invited singer-songwriter Satya to enliven the night with a performance. The show will be hosted by The Oaklandside’s arts and community reporter, Azucena Rasilla. We hope you’ll join us there too.

Culture Makers is generously presented by Xfinity with additional sponsorship support from PG&E, East Bay Community Energy, Tidewater Capital, and the Oakland Athletics.

Here’s more about our guests:

Benjamin Mulholland

Photo courtesy of Benjamin Mulholland

Mulholland is an Oakland-based writer and director. His celebrated works include the short film M.O.A.B. and the action/satire web series Pennies for the Juggernaut, which has garnered fans around the world. His films—which span the genres of adventure and sci-fi and explore themes of politics, mysticism, and mythology—have appeared in numerous festivals, including the Oakland International Film Festival and Cinequest. He’s currently hard at work on a feature-length version of his short film, The Lake Merritt Monster, and a new film, 1000 Demons.

Mulholland has served the local film community as an advisor with the New Oakland Film Center and as a mentor to young filmmakers through local organizations and educational institutions like BAVC, St. Mary’s College, Fremont High School, and the Nueva School. Mulholland is an SFFILM resident, Cine Qua Non-Lab fellow, and Berkeley Film Foundation Grantee.

Laura Wagner

Photo courtesy of Laura Wagner

Wagner is a celebrated filmmaker and the co-founder of Bay Bridge Productions and the Oakland Film Center. Her feature documentaries include The Scale of Hope, Artifishal, and Art 21’s San Francisco Bay Area. Her docs have premiered at Sundance, Tribeca, and SXSW, as well as the Seattle, Rotterdam, and Melbourne film festivals.

Wagner’s narrative fiction films have also received accolades, most notably: It Felt Like Love (Spirit Award and Gotham Award nominations), Tracktown (Sundance Creative Producing Lab; SFFILM Residency), Easy Living (Jerome Foundation and Film Independent AbelCine grants; US in Progress official selection), and My First Kiss and the People Involved (Best Cinematography and Best Narrative Feature at the Ashland Independent Film Festival; Audience Award at the New Orleans Film Festival).

She was an associate producer for the documentary John Leguizamo: Tales From A Ghetto Klown, which premiered on PBS, as well as Pulse: A Stomp Odyssey, an IMAX movie that has been shown in museums and theaters around the world.

Peter Nicks

Photo courtesy of Peter Nicks

Nicks is an Emmy Award-winning documentary film director, producer, and cinematographer whose most well-known works include a trilogy set in Oakland exploring the interconnecting narratives of health care, policing, and education. The Waiting Room, an immersive depiction of Highland Hospital’s emergency room, won an Independent Spirit Award and was shortlisted for an Academy Award in 2012. The Force, a look inside the troubled Oakland Police Department, won the 2017 Sundance Directing Prize. Homeroom, the final film in the trilogy, won the inaugural Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

Nicks currently oversees the non-fiction division at Proximity Media, which he co-founded in 2021 with fellow Oakland-based filmmaker Ryan Coogler. Nicks is currently directing Underrated, a documentary about Golden State Warriors All-Star Stephen Curry. 

Musical guest: Satya

Credit: Justin Cook/@cookcamera

Singer-songwriter Satya is an Oakland School for the Arts alumna. Last December, she made her hometown debut at the New Parish as the opening act for Mara HRuby (our last Culture Makers musical guest.) Satya first got on people’s radar with her 2019 debut EP, Flourish Against Fracture. Her new EP, Deep Blue, tackles themes of love, heartbreak, and healing with striking vulnerability.

Azucena Rasilla is a bilingual journalist from East Oakland 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.