“Love Me Tenderloin,” the new documentary by filmmaker Henri Quenette, doesn’t dismiss the infamous San Francisco neighborhood’s grit.
Yet the heart-tugging movie, which premieres Tuesday in a screening at the San Francisco Public Library’s Main Branch, also shows a resilient community bonded by the hardships of living on the fringe.
The director’s laissez-faire approach is spare in narration, allowing the residents to speak for themselves.
“In San Francisco, it’s the only place that don’t care how you look, how you smell,” says Bridchette, one of four Tenderloin residents profiled in the film. “[The Tenderloin] is the only place in the world that you can actually live with nothing, with no money.”
Bridchette, Arnold, Indian Joe and Woody, all longtime Tenderloin residents, have been through drug addiction, prison and homelessness in varying degrees. Woody distributes clean needles, Arnold collects free papers and distributes them to the elderly, and Indian Joe recycles cardboard.
Known for his top hat and leathers, Indian Joe is an Alice Cooper fan. After decades of living on the street, he revels in the privacy of his room in a single-resident occupancy hotel. In a poignant moment, Joe tells the camera that a remote control — a thing most people take for granted — was still new to him his first year off the streets.
Arnold, who is working on getting a law degree so he can defend the defenseless, says in the film, “Down here in the Tenderloin, no matter how poor we are, no matter how difficult the struggles are, this is one of the best, friendliest communities I’ve ever lived in.”
Woody, who is over 60 and hopes to have a room of his own, just wants “to live peacefully until my time to see the other side.”
Quenette, a Parisian who studied film in France, came to San Francisco to stay with a friend. On his second day in The City, his bike broke down in the Tenderloin. He looked around and was curious to know more. Del Seymour, the famous Tenderloin tour guide, took him under his wing and showed him around. After several months of getting to know everyone, he started filming.
“I was fascinated with all the life I saw in the street, and the number of people hugging each other,” Quenette says. “All these people together are creating a vibrant community. I never experienced such a sense of community in another neighborhood in my life.”
IF YOU GO
Love Me Tenderloin
Where: S.F. Public Library, Main Branch, Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin St., S.F.
When: 5:45 p.m. Tuesday
Contact: (415) 557-4277, www.sfpl.org
Note: A reception sponsored by the French American Cultural Society follows the screening.