Company Town 2017
Distributed by Bullfrog Films, PO Box 149, Oley, PA 19547; 800-543-FROG (3764)
Produced by Snitow-Kaufman Productions
Directed by Deborah Kaufman, Alan Snitow
DVD, color, 88 min.
Middle School - General Adult
Political Science, Activism, Middle Class, Housing, San Francisco
Date Entered: 04/03/2018Reviewed by Christopher Lewis, American University Library, American University
Company Town is a documentary about two candidates, Aaron Preskin and incumbent Julie Christiansen, running for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 2015. Primarily at issue is gentrification in the city and specifically the role of AirBnB in both causing the evictions of renters and providing a means for middle class homeowners to hang on in a city of escalating costs by accommodating the housing needs of tech companies. Preskin is a class warrior presenting himself as the defender of the disappearing working and middle classes. Christiansen represents the comparatively tech-friendly status quo.
Secondarily Proposition F is also on the ballot and this would have restricted the use of short-term rentals by private property owners. A major complaint among the activists was the widening use of Ellis Act evictions to clear buildings to be used as AirBnB hotels. It was a bill that AIrBnB spent heavily to defeat and they succeeded.
On the other hand, the challenger, Preskin, ultimately wins the seat on the board. Whether he has had an impact on the housing crisis in San Francisco in the years since the election is not reported in the documentary.
The film is in the mold of other political campaign documentaries with most of the attention on the candidates’ personalities and tropes of that genre. There are racial undertones in that the tech community, which is the clear antagonist in the story, is presented as mostly white. Asians are a voting bloc the candidates are fighting over.
The film is well-made, engaging, and informative. It captures some of the voices and passions of those who lament the tech-centric makeover of the city. Yet one will have to look elsewhere to get a grasp on how broadly the rising cost of housing has impacted the demographics of the city. Most of this film is rooted in personal stories.